Wyrdwend

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

ON POETRY – TUESDAY’S TALE

Well, it ain’t really a Tale for Tuesday, but it is a tale about how you should tell what you can’t really tell when you try. Not in words, anyway…

ON POETRY

Poetry involves the minute manipulation of words in such a way that they are constantly and subtly altered in definition, either so that they take on a broader and more flexible implication than they have ever possessed before, or so that they take on a more narrow and peculiar resolution in terminology than they have ever before possessed.

Do this wisely and well and with patient and practiced craft and you will be considered a master of phrasing and sound, perhaps even possessed of real poetic genius. Do this sloppily or shoddily and in haste and without regard for the demands of true meaning in language and you will be considered a mere dilettante or perhaps even a hapless hack.

from my book, On Poetry

 

Advertisements

MY ADVICE TO WRITERS (and Everyone else)

The other day someone asked my advice on how to conduct myself as a writer. Or actually, to be more accurate, my advice on how they might better conduct themselves as a writer based on my prior experiences. Since writing is basically a “lonesome occupation” requiring a great deal of commitment, isolation (to a degree I’ll explain momentarily), focus, determination, self-discipline, and real work. They were having trouble dealing with the “lonesome” part of the occupation.

I repeat my advice to them here in the case this assists anyone else. Of course this advice could just as easily apply to artists, inventors, poets, songwriters, and even (to some extent) entrepreneurs of all kinds (all of which I am) with but a few minor modifications. So this is my Highmoot for this Wednesday.

THIS IS MY ADVICE

This is my advice after having worked for myself for decades. I’m about evenly matched between being an introvert and being an extrovert. I too do my very best work alone. However I prime myself by going out and observing people. Going to places that are active, like labs, industrial complexes, malls, museums, libraries, city streets, performances, college campuses, Vadding, to shops, exploring other towns, theaters, etc.
I do this for a day or two about once every two to three weeks.  Although depending on my work schedule I may not be able to do it but once a month. Nevertheless I do this as much as I can and regularly schedule such things.
(Aside: One place though I never go to is coffee shops. Everyone there is on their computers or cell phones and the interactions are limited and about all you see anyone doing is staring at a screen. Coffee shops are, for the most part, horrible and pretentious work environments, with people tending to merely congregate together in order to appear to be working, when in fact they are not truly working – they are seeking to socially escape real work by the public appearance of a displayed but primarily unreal act of “business.” On this point I entirely agree with Hemingway, coffee shops and cafes are the very worst places to do any actual and real work, though they give the plastic social facade of appearing to be busy.
The very same can be said to be true about coffee shops as “observation posts” on true human behavior. The types of human behavior evidenced in most coffee shops is unnatural, artificial, pretentious, deceptive, and rehearsed. People in coffee shops and cafes are extremely aware that they are being observed, indeed this is one reason so many go there, to observe and be observed (in a sort of pre-approved, socially accepted and promoted play-act), in the place of actually working. I almost never trust the close observations of human behavior I make of people in such environments. Such behaviors tend to be no more “real” than the work supposedly occurring in such places, and just as artificial as the plastic illuminated screens they seem so utterly devoted to, and the technological implements they are eagerly seen to be worshiping. My advice is to skip such places entirely if you can and go rather to where real work can be done and you can make true observations about actual behaviors, be those human or animal. Places like I mentioned above. End Aside.)

Then I come home and my mind and soul are primed with observations and ideas and stories and poetry and songs and invention concepts and business proposals.

When I’m at home and working, and tire, or am bored, then I go outside and clear land, hike in the woods, explore the nearby lands (I live out in the country), go fishing, track and observe animals, climb trees, cut down trees, cut the grass, etc. I said I do my best work alone, but actually I do my best work alone while doing something physical, and then I work in my head as I labor. Both because it is excellent practice to work in your head as you labor (the bodily labor frees the mind to wander and work) and because working while you labor is an excellent Mnemonics Technique. Sometimes I’ll write entire poems, songs, scenes from my novels, sections of business plans, create prototype inventions in my head, etc., then memorize the same and store them in Agapolis, my Memory City as I am physically laboring and only after I quit and go back into the house will I write down what I created.

I know modern people are not big on memory or Mnemonic Techniques (so much the shame for them), but I learned such things from the Ancients and the Medievals and if you ask me a superb memory and good control over your own memory is a far better set of skills and capabilities for a writer (or most anyone) to possess than a thousand cell phones or a hundred laptops or tablets or even a dozen internets. A good memory increases not only your overall intelligence but is fundamental to establishing, developing, and properly employing an excellent vocabulary. So practice writing or creating first in your head (after all you can do such things even when you have no access to even pen and paper), then fully memorize what you do, and only then write it down. Such exercises are not only important to do (because of what I mentioned above), but will pay many dividends in any of your creative endeavours and enterprises. Rely not just upon mere technology for your best creations and for your most important works, but rather upon what you most deeply impress upon your own mind and soul. That is both where creation begins and where it will be properly shaped and forged and worked into worthwhile and well-crafted final products.

I don’t know if this helps you any in your own creative enterprises but my advice is go out at least once a month, or as often as you need it, and do nothing but observe and generate new ideas. Then let them ruminate and percolate through you and within you.

If you thereafter feel all cramped up and unable to work smoothly then do something strenuous and physical outside. The labor will do you good and also set our mind free to wander. Then when you are primed and relaxed go to work.

To simplify to a very basic formula: Prime + Observe + Labor + Work + Memorize = High End and Valuable End Product.
After the necessary revisions for proper refinement, of course.
REWRITE OFTEN.

But just because you work alone doesn’t mean you are a prisoner of your environment and just because you work alone doesn’t mean you always have to be alone.

Go wander, go labor, go explore, go meet new people, go people watch, memorize, and then actually Work. Don’t just wade into crowds and pretend to work.

Actually Work.

Be extremely good for ya. And it will probably make you a helluvah lot better writer than you’ve ever been before. No matter what you’re writing. And it is awful hard to be lonely, or a slack-ass, when you are actually doing Good Work.

That’s my advice, take it for what it’s worth.

MASTERING THE MARKET – HIGHMOOT

An Accomplished Writer Takes a ‘MasterClass’ From a Gargantuan Selling Writer

What James Patterson had to teach me about writing—and selling—books

Web_MasterClass2_Morgan Schweitzer

The MasterClass ads started popping up in my Facebook feed a couple of weeks ago. Evidently I fit the demographic of a person who might be willing to cough up 90 bucks for three hours of online lessons taught by a famous person, imparting wisdom on how he or she got that way and how, presumably, I might even do the same, once I mastered the lessons in the MasterClass.

Knowing how scarily well Facebook appears to understand my life, it is unlikely that anyone there (man, or machine) saw me as a candidate for the Serena Williams MasterClass in Tennis, or the Usher MasterClass in the Art of Performance. Back in 11th grade, I played Lady Macbeth in the Oyster River High School production of Macbeth, but I doubt Facebook was aware of this fact, or had me pegged as a possible buyer for the Dustin Hoffman MasterClass in Acting.

It was the James Patterson class they must have recognized as right up my alley—the one titled James Patterson Teaches Writing—a class described as offering advice on how to write a best seller. No doubt this one was offered to me because I am a writer, myself. Just not the type whose name tends to show up on the bestseller list.

I, too, could be one of those writers whose books the person on the seat next to you on the airplane always seems to be reading.

In the 42 years I have worked full time—day in, day out—as a writer, producing, so far, 15 books (a couple of memoirs, a collection of essays and a bunch of novels). I have made it onto The New York Times list for a lifetime total of four weeks—back when the movie version of my novel Labor Day sent the novel that inspired it very briefly onto the charts. Other than that one heady moment, I have labored, like most of my writer friends, in one level or another of financial challenge. But I have held onto the undying faith that any day now, things might change, and all those readers out there who have been buying books by people like Jodi Picoult and James Patterson would suddenly realize what they were missing, and pick up one of mine, instead. And then I, too, would be one of those writers whose books the person on the seat next to you on the airplane always seems to be reading.

Meanwhile, I continue to drive a 1995 Honda Civic and clean my own bathroom. And, in my ungenerous moments, I confess to having harbored a certain not-particularly-attractive level of bitterness over the success of writers like John Grisham and—above all others—James Patterson, a man who holds the title as the world’s best-selling author, publishing so many novels a year that he needs a whole stable of collaborators just to keep up with the demand.

But when this MasterClass announcement showed up in my feed, a new thought came to me. I could hate the man for selling so many more books than I do. Or I could humbly acknowledge that maybe the guy knows something I don’t, and sign up for his class. Which I did.

PHOTO CREDIT: Micke

Confession: At the time I plunked down my $90 for James Patterson’s class, I had never actually read a novel by James Patterson. This didn’t keep me from having a low opinion of the man’s oeuvre. He was pandering to the masses, I told myself. Churning out schlock.

But here’s where another voice piped up in me. Over my many years of publishing my work (novels that may sell 5,000, or 10,000, or if I’m really on a roll, 20,000 copies, to James Patterson’s millions), one thing I’ve acquired is respect for readers. Readers may not be the ultimate arbiters of what makes great art, but they can sense a good story, and even more so, sense when something is inauthentic or written from a place of cynicism or contempt. If a writer approaches his or her story with the simple goal of selling a lot of books, the reader is likely to smell it, and stay away. Something in the work of James Patterson has kept readers ponying up their dollars over the course of a career that now includes 76 best sellers. Maybe I could learn a thing or two about what this quality might be. Maybe I could even acquire it?

So the other day I sat down to the first of the 22 lessons in the James Patterson MasterClass.

Now, just to be clear, I didn’t get to confer personally with my instructor. I also didn’t have to drive anyplace, or show up at a specified time. Paying the fee gave me access to an extremely well-designed website where, at any hour of day or night, I might tap into James Patterson’s lectures—pausing when I wanted, to work on one of the assignments that accompanies each lesson, in the hope that my words might even catch the eye of James Patterson himself. I could have taken as long as I wanted to absorb those 22 segments, but given that I’m not getting any younger here—and that 42 years is an awfully long time to have one’s books not showing up the bestseller list—I decided to get on with it.

I could hate the man for selling so many more books than I do. Or I could humbly acknowledge that maybe the guy knows something I don’t, and sign up for his class.

Just over three hours later, I officially graduated. And though I entered into this project with a large measure of skepticism—worse, even: I entered anticipating that his lessons might offer up some great comedy material—by the time the last lesson was over, and Mr. Patterson (Jim, to me, now) had set me loose to write my best seller, I had developed genuine respect for the man. Even affection. If I met him at a book festival some day, and the opportunity arose, I’d greet him like an old friend.

What changed? For starters, Mr. Patterson possesses an abundance of good, solid common sense and some genuinely valuable wisdom. Not necessarily about the art of writing, mind you. But about storytelling. And at the end of the day, if you ask me (and more importantly, if you ask readers and book buyers), that’s what matters most. A person can write the most beautiful, lyrical sentences (as James Patterson will be the first to tell you, he does not), but if the story doesn’t grab a reader by the throat, and—having grabbed on—hold her there, none of the rest may matter all that much.

Some of the topics Mr. Patterson covers in his MasterClass: Where he gets his ideas. How he designs his characters—and what makes a character compelling. Villains. Creating tension. Dialogue. Here he goes into some detail about the importance of writing dialogue that doesn’t sound like real life—which would be tedious. But rather, writing dialogue that’s wittier, tighter, more filled with dramatic tension and suspense, than what actually happens around the dinner table, or anyplace else in the real, not-particularly-exciting lives people try to escape when they pick up a James Patterson novel.

My friend James Patterson is a big believer in the importance of a great outline. These days, in fact, the outline may be the main thing he actually writes, while he turns over the actual writing to his stable of co-authors. This is how he manages to turn out three or four novels a year, and still fit in a few holes of golf most days.

Still, James Patterson believes in hard work. Seven days a week, in his case—though Mr. Patterson doesn’t call writing work, because he loves it so much. This is a man with an unmistakable passion for what he does.

Some other things James Patterson believes in: Research. Surprises. Action. (If a story isn’t galloping along, it’s sinking. Fast.) He’ll tell you that your first sentence had better be a killer. And that every page needs to contain a measure of drama and intrigue; suspense and excitement that keeps the reader in her chair. (I say “her chair” because it turns out that the vast majority of James Patterson’s millions of readers are women. A fact I might not have anticipated.)

James Patterson came to writing from the world of advertising, and he remains (as I, sadly, am not) a businessperson. “Don’t set out to write a good thriller,” he says. “Set out to write a No. 1 thriller.”

It’s a refreshing aspect to the man, that he harbors no illusions about his gifts. “Let’s face it,” he tells us. “I’m not writing War and Peace.”

“I’m not that concerned with style. …Don’t think about the sentences,” he advises. Just keep that train roaring along.

His stories may be unlike anybody else’s, but his MasterClass is hardly free of clichés: Writing is “a great ride.” A character’s dialogue “fits him like a glove,” and above all else, we should avoid “two-dimensional characters.” A big plot development is “an ‘aha’ moment.”

Screen shot 2015-08-03 at 3.01.01 PM

Never mind all that. The man understands dramatic storytelling. When he tells us to write in such a way that our words “turn on the movie projector” in a reader’s head,” I could not be more with him. I even say the same thing, almost word for word, to my own writing students, in the classes I teach, whose modest enrollment numbers (I now realize) probably have something to do with the fact that not once in all the years I’ve taught writing, myself, have I ever promised I could help anyone write a best seller.

Can James Patterson’s MasterClass accomplish that? Not if a person doesn’t have some natural instincts. (And from the writing samples submitted online by some of my fellow students, I can attest to how many do not.) The MasterClass has not been created—nor will it be—that can impart talent, or originality, or simply a good ear.

Still, James Patterson’s MasterClass is in no way a rip-off. Even if a person never finishes her novel, or finds an agent, or gets her work published, James Patterson will no doubt leave her feeling fired up to write a story. It will inspire people, and make them happy. It will not put them down. What James Patterson is selling here, as much as anything is a glimpse at the dream, and the feeling that it might actually be possible. (Among the segments in the MasterClass is one covering that age-old dilemma: “What to do when you sell your novel to Hollywood.” Now there’s a problem…)

As my friend Jim says, we should reach for the stars. There are worse things an individual might do than to nourish hope and enthusiasm for creative expression, or simple entrepreneurship. James Patterson is great at that. For the three hours it takes to listen to all 22 segments of his MasterClass, students may actually get to feel like writers. They can even post a few sentences of their work up there, and if they are among the lucky ones, James Patterson himself may actually offer up a response. One woman wanted to know how she might protect herself from the danger that someone, seeing her writing on the site—including Mr. Patterson himself, perhaps—might rip it off. Having seen her work, I might have told her not to worry.    

See how mean I can be? James Patterson would never say anything like that to one of his students, or dampen, in any way, their aspirations. To James Patterson, any one of us out there taking this class may be the next James Patterson. And if we aren’t… well, you don’t have to become Jimi Hendrix to get some joy out of fooling around on the guitar. And let’s not forget, Buddy Holly only played three chords.

THE SCALE OF YOUR WORK

Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer

Jay McGregor

CONTRIBUTOR

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
The London Book Fair lands on an unusually sunny three days in the capital. The scorching rays – rarely seen at all, let alone in April in the UK – seem at odds with a closed-off indoor book fair. But that hasn’t stopped scores of page-turner enthusiasts scouring the giant exhibition centre’s main floor, looking for publishers to schmooze, books to buy and advice to receive.

It’s the advice from authors who’ve ‘made it’ that seems to resonate most with attendees. Seminars and workshops are scattered in between the stands – all packed with a baying audience that fire off seemingly endless questions. They’re all trying to piece together an escape route out of the doldrums of full-time work.

One man, Mark Dawson, has a queue of wannabe writers lining up to speak to him as we sit down for an interview. Dawson is one of the self-publishing success stories that Amazon likes to wheel out when journalists like myself come knocking. But Dawson’s success isn’t down to simply publishing his crime-thriller series and hoping for the best.

Dawson has become an entrepreneur. With the self-publishing platform, he had no choice. The tactics he employed to promote his series aren’t game-changing, or even particularly clever, but the scale in which he implemented them is what made the difference.

To date he has sold over 300,000 copies of his series about an assassin called John Milton. Dawson says he pocketed “ six figures” last year and he’s on course to make much more this year. And he’s got plans for bigger and better things for this series outside of print form.

SUMMARY PITCH OUTLINE – HAMMER, TONGS, AND TOOLS

It’s Thursday meaning Hammer, Tongs, and Tools.

For the past few years I’ve been developing Tools to assist me in my career as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet. In preparation for pursuing those careers.

I have decades worth of Tools regarding my business-careers as a business, copy, and non-fiction writer, and inventor (and as a poet, I’ve been a poet since I was about age 8 or so), many of which I have been posting to my Business Blog, Launch Port.

But here in Wyrdwend I’m going to start making it a habit to post some of my more useful Writing Tools in the form of Templates. I’ll arrange them all into a sellable book, or e-book, or workbook, something like that, maybe in a year or so. I’m too busy right now.

I’m giving you permission to use these tools, or to use them as idea-generators to make your own. Tools, as opposed to actual Works, I consider more public property than proprietary or personal intellectual property. Yeah, in book form I’d consider them mine, but in this form, if you find them useful, then use away.

Each week, barring some unforeseen exigency, I’ll be posting a different Tool, or a different kind of tool (writing, songwriting, poetry, etc.) that you can make use of in developing your own works. Some of these tools I modified from tools suggested to me by others, some contain partial information or design components from other sources, many are entirely my own creations.
To start I give you a very, very simple and easy to use tool. Nevertheless it should (if properly employed) contain vital and succinct information about your Work (Book or other Major Work) that you can use as an elevator pitch, to formulate a written pitch, or to simply keep the fundamental and primary elements of your work clear, distinct, and easily marketable.

SUMMARY PITCH OUTLINE

Opae (Title):

Date Begun:

ONE SENTENCE DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

ONE PARAGRAPH DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

ONE PAGE SYNOPSIS OF BOOK:

TWO TO THREE PAGES FULL DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:

PLATFORMING

Author Platforms 201 – Part Two – Consistency

Starting last Tuesday and continuing today and next week I will be exploring the issue of author platforms and how to get one.  At the conclusion of this series of blog posts, The Steve Laube Agency will offer a downloadable document that will include the three posts plus additional information and resources.

__________

Last week, I talked a little about the need to develop a “message platform”, which must be in place before you get a website, Facebook page or start any social media effort.

Today I am still not going to talk at all about how to use Twitter or Instagram or any specific social media. Media is the vehicle to communicate. Maybe at one time “the media is the message”, but in the 21st century, with ubiquitous media, “the message is the message” and that is where it belongs.

Today we will continue to explore how to determine what your message platform is and what you need to begin implementing it.

Most people have heard the term “branding” or “brand management” as it relates to consumer products like breakfast cereal and cars. Simply defined (so even I can understand it), effective branding limits creative expression within certain boundaries. If you are a label designer for Campbell’s Soup, there is a template you use to maintain the Campbell’s brand so anyone can recognize a product at a glance.  An artist who desires to express herself creatively would view that job as a start, but probably not last long in that highly controlled environment.

Authors are brands as well. When anyone, from an agent to a reader looks at an author some immediate thoughts will come to mind, whether positive, negative, clear or confusing. Of course, you desire to project a positive and clear image, but often times, the way we operate is contrary to that.

I am not talking hypocrisy or sinful behaviors or walking the talk. I am referring to having a consistent message, delivered creatively, one that attracts readers and followers and meets the expectations they have for you.

Toe-stepping alert#1: Many less-than-interesting messages from authors have been posted in various media because “I need to post something today, but I can’t think of anything right now.” Until you become truly a rock star and people really want to know what kind of shampoo you use, don’t lose focus and talk about things that lack connection to your message. (Unless your message platform is about hair care, then shampoo is fine)

Whether you recognize it or not, you have a theme to what you write.

  • A novelist might have an approach that shows how characters can learn from mistakes.
  • A non-fiction author might use extensive research to undergird whatever they write and is known for attention to detail.
  • Another novelist shows how people go about their lives unaware of the spiritual world in the background.
  • A writer of Bible reference works desires to make the Bible understandable to everyone.
  • A writer of children’s books might want parents and children to interact about important things.

None of the above are necessarily the topic of a book…they are an author’s approach to their writing. That is their message platform, which is the first step for developing the author platform we hear so much about.

Toe-stepping alert #2: Most authors have no idea what their message platform is until someone else tells them.  If you try to figure it out yourself, you are engaging in a form of self-deception. We never see ourselves as others see us. Ask someone who will be honest. Don’t ask close friends or family. They will be nice and usually agree with whatever you say.  “Of course, you are smartest person in the world”. Thanks mom.

Bloggers, columnists, talk-show hosts, comedians, teachers, pastors and others who are responsible to deliver regular presentations make it a habit to always be on the lookout for illustrations and content. In many cases, they carry a small notebook with them everywhere they go, ready to capture a thought. Of course, these days, a number of people use a notes app or voice memo function on a smart phone. Use whatever you want, but do it.

Eyes and ears open, antennae up.

Look for stories to support your message platform everywhere. Let’s say your message platform is to highlight the good things people do for one another every day. That’s an easy one. You look for people doing things for one another.

Toe-stepping alert #3: If you don’t write or record the idea immediately, you will forget it. I don’t care how smart you are or how much you can memorize, the first time your phone rings you’ll forget what you were thinking about and the thought will be gone like a coin dropped on the couch.

Suppose your core message is harder to define. This is where asking multiple people is extremely important. Tell people to be straight with you. Anything else will not be helpful or at best, will send you off on a rabbit trail.

Finally, the framework for all message platforms is a commonly used item. A calendar. There are dates that mean something, like MLK Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, your grandmother’s 100th birthday, the anniversary of the day you got your driver’s license, etc.

By mapping out your message framework with a calendar, you will have a much easier time acquiring a specific message than if you try to figure out something without it. An idea from this afternoon might be great for next Spring or two years from now.

Toe-stepping alert#4: If you do not consistently plan your platform messages, then you will have regular moments of brain-freeze and you will shelve your carefully crafted platform for something less-than-important. The more you waste the time of your devoted followers who expect something from your core message platform, the less devoted they will become. (Unless you are super-famous, then we want to know what flavor of hummus you like best)

Next week, I’ll close this series of blog posts with a specific approach you can view the way you conduct your author marketing.

But if I forget what to write, anyone want to know how I feel about buying food from vending machines at rest stops along interstate highways?

Author Platforms – Part One

– See more at: http://www.stevelaube.com/author-platforms-201-part-two-consistency/#sthash.w12ysvl6.dpuf

CREATIVE WORK RELEASE

I almost never face Writer’s Block. I almost always have the opposite problem, too many ideas to pursue at once.

But for those who do have Writer’s Block problems then maybe this will help.

How to Work Through Difficulty: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

by

“When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

In addition to having authored my all-time favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll was a man of extraordinary and frequently prescient wisdom on matters of everyday life — his nine commandments of letter-writing offer timely insight into how we can make modern digital communication more civil, and his four rules for digesting information are a saving grace for our age of information overload. In The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (public library; free download), this blend of timelessness and timelines so characteristic of Carroll’s thinking comes vibrantly ablaze, but nowhere more so than in an 1885 letter to one of his child-friends, a young lady named Edith Rix.

Carroll addresses the age-old question of how to overcome creative block. More than a century before psychologists identified the essential role of taking breaks in any intense creative endeavor, and long before our earliest formal theories about the stages of the creative process, Carroll offers spectacularly prescient counsel on how to work through creative difficulty and seemingly unsolvable problems — a testament to the fact that in the study of creativity, psychology often simply names and formalizes the intuitive insights artists have had for centuries, if not millennia.

Carroll offers young Edith three tips:

When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can’t make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand. When I was reading Mathematics for University honors, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.

His second tip is particularly noteworthy for the way it compares and contrasts Carroll’s two domains of genius, writing and mathematics — for, lest we forget, behind the pen name Lewis Carroll always remained the brilliant mathematician and logician Charles Dodgson. He writes:

My second hint shall be — Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence — don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.

In a way, this dichotomy also illuminates the difference between reading and writing. Writing is almost mathematical, in the sense that it requires a clarity of logic in order for the writer to carry the plot forward. A reader may be able to read over a muddled sentence and still follow the plot — but only if that sentence was unmuddled for the writer in carrying the plot forward. In that sense, while Carroll’s advice to Edith considers her experience as a reader, his advice to a writer regarding creative block would be more closely aligned with the mathematician’s experience — if a writer were to skip over a difficulty in the construction of a story, which is essentially a logical difficulty, it too “is sure to crop up again.”

Illustration by Tove Jansson for ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Click image for more.

Carroll’s third tip is at once remarkably simple and remarkably challenging to apply for anyone who has ever tussled with the mentally draining but spiritually sticky process of creative problem-solving:

My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest, or your penalty will be that you will never learn Mathematics at all!

The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll is a wonderful read in its entirety, full of the beloved author’s thoughts on happiness, morality, religion, identity, and much more. Complement it with the best illustrations from 150 years of Alice in Wonderland, then fortify this particular bit with the psychology of the perfect writing routine and more ideas on overcoming creative block from Brian Eno, Carole King, and some of today’s most exciting creators.

11 STEP GUIDE TO SCENE/SCREEN WRITING

11 STEP GUIDE TO SCENE/SCREEN WRITING

This is not my Tool, I did not write or create it. Nevertheless I think it is a very useful tool, and one worth using.

CLOSE TO HUMAN

The Art of Close Writing

By posted at 6:00 am on August 5, 2014 10

570_close

coverJonathan Russell Clark sits at his desk, writing an essay about free indirect discourse. Surrounding him are books by authors who employ the technique with considerable skill: Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Dixon, and Joshua Ferris. He recalls a time when he did not even know what free indirect discourse was, and a time, later, when he knew the term but viewed it more as a descriptor than a crucial component. He remembers how his relationship to the term evolved over the years: his initial distrust of it, as many of his favorite writers cavalierly disregarded the tactic; his frustration with its limitations: how would he communicate the thoughts of other characters if he couldn’t leave the brain of the protagonist?; his eventual understanding of its importance while reading James Wood’s illuminating (though much debated) book How Fiction Works, in which he refers to it as “close writing”; and then, finally, his acceptance and full embrace of the method. Though he still admired novelists who could successfully avoid using free indirect discourse, he knew he would never break from it himself. It was just too liberating, the way close writing allowed his sentences to spill out of him, effortlessly, like thoughts, rapid and rabid and rampant, just spit out onto the page––it was so easy, or, well, easier, because it’s not as if he’s without problems, creatively speaking, oh he has problems, like how is he supposed to know which thoughts are important and which simply aren’t? and why is he unable to write economically, why are his pieces always longer than they need to be?––but yeah anyway, he now loved close writing because it made writing fun.

To be clear: close writing is not vital to all fiction. In fact, it doesn’t even speak to most fiction. For instance, first-person narrations cannot use free indirect discourse. When a character is speaking directly to a reader, the aim of close writing is already happening; no technique required. Also, novels and stories that feature an omniscient narrator are similarly excluded––all-knowing narrators simply tell us information. The skill required to pull off such a voice is its own subject. No, close writing only relates to third-person limited narrations, and, even more specifically, ones with an active interest in the inner lives of the characters. Not all fiction cares about that.

Here’s how James Wood explains close writing:

So-called omniscience is almost impossible. As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking. A novelist’s omniscience soon enough becomes a kind of secret sharing.

And later:

Note the gain in flexibility. The narrative seems to float away from the novelist and take on the properties of the character, who now seems to “own” the words.

Without being able to articulate it, free indirect discourse appealed to Clark greatly. Novels that used the style effectively gave him a giddy sensation, the prose seeming to not have been written but transcribed from a person’s mind but filtered through the ostensibly distancing third-person point-of-view, and though he didn’t know it, he came to depend on such techniques to let him “settle” into a character. Even more striking, when he read a piece of fiction (especially in a workshop environment) that failed to use close writing and didn’t effectively employ another style, something irked him as his eyes moved over the words. He was made uncomfortable by these stories, but he didn’t know why. What the hell was it?

When he finally learned the term––in a college course, he thinks––he started to understand what it was that had been bothering him. Once he read How Fiction Works, he knew with satisfying finality. Free indirect discourse. Close writing. Thankfully the grey cloud hovering over his frustration had a name. Nameless things give aimless dreams.

coverHow important is free indirect discourse? In the history of the novel, it’s extremely important. Clark at first didn’t even realize that the technique had to be developed at all, but in fact it was an astonishing feat. According to Michael Schmidt’s monumental and astounding work of scholarship and criticism, The Novel: A Biography (a book so big and important it merits its own essay, which is forthcoming), early iterations of the novel concerned themselves less with verisimilitude than outright deceit. When Daniel Defoe composed Robinson Crusoe (or, to use its full title––no joke––The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein All the Men Perished but Himself. with an Account of How He Was at Last as Strangely Deliver’d by Pirates), “he believed he had to honor readers’ expectations of a true and edifying story. An untrue story had to seem true.” The nuanced psychology of the characters was irrelevant to the task of moral tutelage. But the method of mimicking eventually morphed into the representation of human thought.

covercoverGenerally, the development of close writing into its modern form is attributed to Gustave Flaubert in novels like A Sentimental Education, but the early traces of “inner monologue” are as subtle and elusive as the technique itself. Gabriel García Márquez “detects the original use of ‘interior monologue’” as far back as Lazarillo de Tormes, a picaresque work from 1554. James Wood points out an example in Pope’s mock-epic The Rape of the Lock from 1712. Jane Austen, who died four years before Flaubert was born, occasionally abandoned her lofty point-of-view in order to take the reader into the character’s mind, if only briefly, as in this passage from Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully proposed being engaged by Wickham for those very dances:––and to have Mr. Collins instead!––her liveliness had been never worse timed. There was no help for it however. Mr. Wickham’s happiness and her own was per force delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins’s proposal accepted with as good a  grace as she could. She was not the better pleased with his gallantry, from the idea it suggested of something more.––It now struck her, that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being the mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors.

Austen’s tactics are very subtle––the exclamation point punctuating the shock over Mr. Collins, the italicized she, and the sound of contemplative flow in “There was no help for it however”––but those little moments of language all belong to Elizabeth, not Austen. It is Elizabeth who can’t believe she has Mr. Collins instead; it is Elizabeth who can’t believe that she was selected from among her sisters, and it is Elizabeth who doesn’t think there was any help for it however. A reader may not be able to articulate with precision the, as Wood describes it, “marvelous alchemical transfer” that just took place, but they’ll feel it. They’ll understand Elizabeth a little bit more.

Flaubert took it a bit further. He organized his entire style around close writing. In A Sentimental Education, the prose moves into the protagonist Frédéric’s mind without any explicit hint at the shift. Here is Frédéric’s first seeing Mme Arnoux, the older woman with whom he falls in love with:

Never before had he seen more lustrous dark skin, a more seductive figure, or more delicately shaped fingers than those through which the sunlight gleamed. He stared with amazement at her work-basket, as if it were something extraordinary. What was her name, her place of residence, her life, her past?

Those last questions are Frédéric’s, as if transcribed verbatim from his thoughts. But where did that shift happen? There was no, “He thought…” Instead, the language slips first into the character’s vernacular––the words “lustrous,” “seductive,” and “delicately” are all Frédéric’s––and then into his mind. It’s quite a nifty trick. “Thanks to free indirect style,” James Wood writes, “we see things through the character’s eyes and language but also through the author’s eyes and language. We inhabit omniscience and partiality at once.”

If this all seems very basic to you, consider that there was a time when close writing simply didn’t exist. Additionally, though readers and writers often implicitly understand these ideas, sometimes the act of naming something and recognizing its traits leads to understanding. Like David Foster Wallace’s fish parable, sometimes you have to say: This is water.

coverMoreover, once the modernists enter the picture, close writing is taken to new depths: the inner thoughts of characters become just as important––or more important––than the plot. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce went so far as to construct novels that took place in a single day, Mrs. Dalloway and Ulysses, meaning the reader spends most of the narrative inside a mind as it thinks. Joyce loved to catalogue very ordinary thoughts, and through Leopold Bloom he mastered close writing like nobody before him. Here is Bloom just after he is first introduced, as he prepares breakfast for Molly:

Another slice of bread and butter: three, four: right. She didn’t like her plate full. Right. He turned from the tray, lifted the kettle off the hob and set it sideways on the fire. It sat there, dull and squat, its spout stuck out. Cup of tea soon. Good. Mouth dry.

Listen to the fragmentary nature of Bloom’s thoughts as they mingle with action. Taking Flaubert’s technique even further, Joyce gives us full access to Bloom’s mind with almost no indication he’s doing so. His thoughts aren’t profound––they’re quotidian, mundane, banal. Clark’s favorite moment comes when Bloom is unable to recall someone’s name:

Stream of life. What was the name of that priestylooking chap was always squinting in when he passed? Weak eyes, woman. Stopped in Citron’s saint Kevin’s parade. Pen something. Pendennis?

Who hasn’t had a similar moment, a name stuck on the tip of the tongue? Then, a full 25 pages later (in the 1922 text, that is), as Bloom assists a blind man across the street, and whose face strikes him “like a fellow going in to be a priest,” it suddenly hits him: “Penrose! That was the chap’s name.” The image of a priest brings to mind the “priestylooking chap” whose name he couldn’t recall earlier and he’s able to conjure the name, except Joyce doesn’t clue the reader into the association. The line is simply plopped down in the middle of another scene.

Virginia Woolf wastes no time delving into her titular character’s inner life. After her famous opening––”Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”––the prose immediately becomes one with Mrs. Dalloway’s ruminations:

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning––fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”––was that it?––”I prefer men to cauliflowers”––was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace––Peter Walsh.

Who’s Lucy? Why does she have her work cut out for her? Why is Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers? And who is Peter Walsh? Why does he suddenly appear in her mind? Remember: this is the first page of the novel. In 1925, when Mrs. Dalloway was published, people still expected some exposition, some introductory orientation, but Woolf provides none. She doesn’t have to. That’s the power of close writing.

>Since then, free indirect discourse has become an integral part of third-person novels. Grab any one at random and you’ll probably find that it employs close writing. And there are still writers who experiment with this voice in their fiction. Stephen Dixon’s I. plays around with the separation of author and subject. The protagonist’s is named I., which means Dixon gets to write sentences like: “I. met Fels more than twenty years ago.” Yes, it’s third person, but it’s also first.  Dixon, then, further erases the gap by having the character, I., also be the writer of the prose, so that he can stop in the middle of a paragraph (which, in Dixon’s fiction, are always long) and say, “Oh, he’s not explaining himself well,” or “What’s he going on about?” Then, those murmurs of uncertainty become full-blown self-doubt:

Oh, stop with the crypt of memories swinging open and all that. Fine, then what? Simply this: he finished something yesterday––okay, a short story––wanted to start something new today––story, novel, two-page short-short: what did he care? A fiction of any length––even a play if it was possible––because he gets agitated with himself and grumpy with his family if at the end of the day after the one he finished a fiction he still doesn’t have something to work on the next day. In other words––but he thinks he explained that okay.

He continues to edit himself as he goes, noting, at one point, “that last parenthetical sentence could be clearer, and he knows it’s going to take work.” After a lengthy explanation of I.’s morning, he writes, “He could have done that so much more simply: he finished writing something yesterday, wanted to start writing something today, saw the obituary and started to write.”

The transfer of voice from the author to the character, here, is thrown right back to the author. Dixon’s I. is also the writer, so close writing here traces not simply the character’s thoughts, but the very words he’s typing. Thinking and writing meld into one organism. Dixon’s metafictional approach could be thought of as elaborate autobiography, but whatever it is it shows how close writing can still be stretched and expanded for new purposes. Dixon’s work is often neglected, or deemed too difficult for casual enjoyment. Too bad; he’s wonderful.

coverThe last writer Clark wants to focus on is Joshua Ferris, a writer noted for his experiments with voice. His Then We Came to the End is written in first-person plural, an entire office represented with the narrative we. Recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (in the first year Americans were considered), Ferris is one of contemporary fiction’s most assured practitioners. His abilities with close writing are prodigious, as unequivocally demonstrated by his New Yorker story “The Pilot.” It basically focuses on the neuroses of Lawrence, a wannabe television writer who gets an email invitation to a producer’s “yearly blowout.” “He’d R.S.V.P’d,” we’re told, “but not immediately. Two days after the message came in. Two days plus maybe an hour.” When he receives no reply from her, he starts to worry:

He would have liked a reply. After a few days went by, he’d have liked a reply a lot. Was his e-mail too effusive? Was it a mistake to use the word “sick” to describe her show? Or maybe she was just busy shooting the season finale. She was just busy shooting the season finale. He should have just written back quick-like, something like “Thanks for the invitation, Kate. See you then.” Then she might have quick-like hit Reply, with a confirmation, and he’d have known that she knew he was coming. Did she even know she’d invited him? Sometimes, with e-mail, some programs, you hit All Contacts or something and invite people you didn’t even mean to invite. Of course she’d meant to invite him. He just didn’t have any confirmation that she’d received his R.S.V.P. That was kind of unnerving. But, think about it, would he then have to confirm her confirmation? That wasn’t really feasible. It was just…Everything was fine. She was just wrapping. He was too effusive. “Sick little fuck-you”: that might have been––no, it was fine––just a little insulting? No, no, it was fine, who knows, not him.

That is a virtuoso stretch of comic writing, and a better representation of human thought as it occurs than almost anything Clark’s read in his life. The thoughts interrupt each other, the narrator oscillates between two poles of neurotic uncertainty, even repeating himself to emphasize a statement’s validity (yet inadvertently showing how questionable Lawrence finds that validity), and yet the reader never loses the train, the writing is crystal clear, the rhythm natural. Even though Lawrence isn’t technically narrating, he owns every single word on the page. The reader is in his mind.

Close writing really is an amazing thing. Consider that this essay right now has been narrated in the third person, and yet there is no question as to what Clark’s opinions are. There was never any confusion over “who” was asserting the statements made above. The “marvelous alchemical transfer” made it so the separation between Jonathan Russell Clark and some ostensible narrator disappeared––after a while, you probably stopped noticing, except for the occasional use of Clark’s name. Here, of course, Clark and the author are the same, but the same technique used in fiction functions the same way. The writer disappears and only the character is left––the voice, the thoughts, the little details that make us human.

LE GUIN’S GOOD ADVICE

By the way I’ve said for years that “Show, don’t tell” may just be the single most juvenile and straight-jacketing piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard in my life. Show, don’t tell is an appropriate device for certain genres and in certain situations, it is the kiss of death for great literature and poetry.

 

 

10 Writing Tips from Ursula Le Guin

At the National Book Awards a few nights ago, Ursula Le Guin was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a fancy sounding award that basically means she’s the bomb (she really is).

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin for a long time, since I first discovered The Earthsea Cycle, which re-invigorated my love for fantasy.

She’s also famous for her science-fiction, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and was one of the first to show the world that women can not only write great science-fiction, they can often do it better than men.

Le Guin is a “genre” writer who constantly worked to push the boundaries of what we think of as genre. Besides sci-fi and fantasy, she wrote poetry, creative non-fiction, and literary fiction.

I honestly believe she will go down in history as one of the greatest writers, literary or otherwise, of the 20th century.

Ursula Le Guin’s Quotes on Writing

With that in mind, here are ten quotes from Ursula Le Guin on her process as a writer:

1. “Show, Don’t Tell” is for Beginners

From ursulakleguin.com:

Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented.… This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present.

2. So Is “Write What You Know”

From ursulakleguin.com:

As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.

3. Do Your Job as a Writer, and Do it Really Well

From Paris Review:

But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer (tweet that, emphasis mine). I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.

4. Shoot for the Top, Always.

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

When asked what authors she measures her work against, Le Guin says:

Charles Dickens. Jane Austen. And then, when I finally learned to read her, Virginia Woolf. Shoot for the top, always. You know you’ll never make it, but what’s the fun if you don’t shoot for the top? (tweet that)

5. Write Like Who You Are

From Paris Review:

Hey, guess what? You’re a woman. You can write like a woman. I saw that women don’t have to write about what men write about, or write what men think they want to read. I saw that women have whole areas of experience men don’t have—and that they’re worth writing and reading about.

6. Learn from the Greats

From Paris Review:

It was Borges and Calvino who made me think, Hey, look at what they’re doing! Can I do that?

7. Writing is All About Learning to See

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them— yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. (tweet that)

I love this, by the way. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”

8. Begin Your Story with a Voice

From Paris Review:

How should you begin your story?

With a voice. With a voice in the ear. That first page I wrote, which the novel progressed from, is simply Lavinia speaking to us—including me, apparently.

9. Focus on the Rhythm of the Story

From Paris Review:

I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey—you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.

10. Don’t Waste Time

From Paris Review:

And one of [the things you learn as you get older] is, you really need less… My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there…. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.

How about you? What do you love about Ursula Le Guin? What has she taught you about writing?

PRACTICE

Use tip #5 and write like who you really are.  Write like a woman or a man or an American or an alien or an Ursula Le Guin or a Joe Bunting. Write just as you are.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.

Happy writing!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

THE CHILD IS THE FATHER OF THE MAN

Being both a writer and a man who homeschooled my own children I found this article fascinating, informative, and useful. Maybe you will too.

The education of a best-selling teenage author

November 10

 

When Christopher Paolini was 15 years old, he started writing a novel that eventually was titled “Eragon,” the first in a four-book series that became known as the “Inheritance Cycle.” He spent two years writing and then rewriting the story and a third year traveling around the country promoting the self-published book before an established author, Carl Hiaasen, read it and had it published by Alfred A. Knopf.  How did he manage to do all this and get an education too? In the following post, his mother, Talita Paolini, explains. Talita Paolini trained and worked as a Montessori preschool teacher. She and her husband, Kenneth, homeschooled their two children. Many parents asked Talita for advice, so she recorded the Paolini Method in a series of articles and books. You can read about it here. She currently resides with her husband and children in Paradise Valley, Montana. On her website, the 30-year-old Christopher Paaolini is quoted as saying:

“People often ask how I was able to write Eragon at the age of fifteen. Well, the credit has to go to my parents, and specifically my mom, who is a trained teacher. She started to educate my sister and me when we were very young, first with games and other fun projects and later with more formal lessons. Without her system of instruction, none of our professional success would have been possible. I was incredibly fortunate to have been educated with these methods, and I firmly believe that children everywhere can benefit from them.”

 

By Talita Paolini

When my son, Christopher, was born, I wondered who he was and who he would become. I had no inkling that he would someday be listed in the Guinness World Records as the youngest author of a bestselling book series. At that time, I just marveled at this little human who had joined our family and felt a sense of responsibility at the task before me: to introduce him to the world.

My husband, Kenneth, and I talked to Christopher, read books to him, and sang to him. We carried him in a backpack, so he could watch what we were doing. He expressed great interest in watching me make dinner, peering over my shoulder as I worked, and he loved observing the world on hikes, while perched high on Kenneth’s back. And when he could walk and talk, wow! He explored the world using all his senses and filled our ears with endless questions and commentary. Our daughter Angela was born not quite two years later, and she developed along the same path. She would become a writer as well.

I had been trained as a Montessori preschool teacher. Dr. Montessori’s philosophy emphasizes the cultivation of children’s innate desire to learn using specially prepared materials and freedom of movement, so it was natural for me to offer my children hands-on activities. Not having the resources to buy expensive classroom materials, I looked for ways to teach them using common household items. In addition, I observed my children closely and then found ways to help them learn through art, games, music, and activities of daily life. In town, we counted cars and trees. We talked about the seasons and where we lived on planet Earth. My children enjoyed doing art projects and playing games with the letters of the alphabet, tracing the letters in preparation for writing, and then pointed out those letters around the house and in town. Each week we visited the library and returned with an armful of books.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Tools to Help You Write a Novel in 30 Days

November is National Novel Writing Month; here’s the best software to help you write 50,000 words in 30 days.
The Best Writing Tools for NaNoWriMo

Contents

November is known for turkey, Black Friday sales, not shaving, and—since the year 2000—the month when writers try to (finally) craft the Great American Novel. We’re talking about the fifteenth annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

What began as a little event in San Francisco in July 1999 (it moved to November the next year) has ballooned into something far more than national—it’s a worldwide phenomenon, backed by a non-profit company created by the founder, Chris Baty, that doubles as a major cheerleader for writers.

It’s free to participate, but your tax-deductable donations are encouraged to keep it afloat. That’s because you don’t really need the NaNoWriMo site to get a book written. But think about the “rule” you’re expected to follow to “win” at NaNoWriMo: You have to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. That’s 1,667 words a day. Stephen King might snap that much off before lunchtime, but the rest of us need encouragement.

Take the first step by announcing your novel at NaNoWriMo.org, and on November 1, start recording your daily word count. You’ll earn badges along the way and get advice via newsletters (some by famous authors) and the forums. You can build a community of fellow WriMos online and locally through events.

In the end, you’ll have a novel. It will probably be crappy. No, it will definitely be crap-tastic. But that’s okay! The only rule of NaNoWriMo is to finish—because that’s the hardest part. Some famous modern novels, such as Wool, The Night Circus, and Water for Elephants all started life as NaNoWriMo novels. We’re not saying you’re that good… but if you work on it after November, maybe you can get it out there. (That’s a whole other story.)

To truly succeed at NaNoWriMo you need things we can’t help you with—like an idea, and a plot, and characters, not to mention the gumption to spend hours each day clacking at the keyboard. But we can point out bsome of the absolute best software and apps you can get to make it all a little easier to write, plan, and count all those precious words. After you win by writing that 50,000-word tome—that’s the same size at The Great Gatsby!—you’ll have all the tools you need on hand to keep writing. Always keep writing…

SHOW AND TELL

For my NaNoWriMo friends.

I liked the way in which, and how, she presented most of this advice.

How to Show and When to Tell

I hope you’re busy writing your amazing works of NaNoWriMo fiction!
I thought, as we dive in, it might help to understand what editors mean by “Show, Don’t Tell.”  Listen, I know it can be confusing.  Especially since there is not only mis-information and bad teaching out there, but also because there IS a time Tell!
Showing, not Telling is not about describing everything that happens. And Telling has nothing to do with narrative and backstory.  Narrative and backstory (and even action) get a bad rap because often, during narrative, backstory and action, authors drop into “telling” without realizing it.  Describing ACTION by saying “John shot Bill.” is not telling.  It’s action.  But adding:  “John felt sorry when he shot Bill,” would be telling.
See, I know. Confusing.
Here’s the bottom line:  Showing is about helping the reader experience the emotions of the character. Showing brings us into the mind and heart of the character to understand their emotional journey.
Here’s how:  If you say, ‘She felt grief,’ or even, and this is more common, ‘Grief overtook her’ you are not just telling us what emotion she’s feeling, but you’re pinpointing one emotion your reader must feel with the character. Instead, show us how despair makes her feel through how she acts, what she thinks, what she says and how she sees her world. Let us into your character’s head.
 
Telling is when you tell someone how to feel. It relates to the emotion to the story, not the narrative, backstory and action.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say your character has just lost her husband. She’s come home from the funeral to the quiet house and gone upstairs to her room.  Here are some options:
 
You could say: She stood in front of the closet and grieved. However, we feel like an onlooker, a voyeur into her world. We are told how she feels, but don’t experience her grief.
Further from that, but also a telling, is: She stood in front of the closet and felt grief course through her. We’re closer to understanding how she feels, but we’ve still been told exactly the emotion she’s experiencing.
Better is: She stood in front of the closet and wept. Here, we’re closer to experiencing what the character is feeling. We might understand what it feels like to stand there and simply weep.
But what if we took it further. What if we let the reader into the character’s skin to feel the grief?
She stood at the edge of the closet and stared at his polished shoes, at his pressed wool suits, at his crisp silky red ties. A tidy man. Not the kind to wrap his car around a tree. But there, in the back…she pushed aside the shirts and pulled out his letter jacket, the one he’d wrapped around her the night they’d met. She inhaled. Thirty years, and still his scent lingered. Please, let it linger. Please let her rewind, go back to the fight, erase her words. Erase his anger. Without a word, she stepped inside the closet, closed the door behind her, pulled the jacket over her, and wept.
Never once do I say that she is grieving. But I weave it in through her perspective, the five senses and rich details and finally her actions.
Here’s the part that people confuse. Often I see people over-showing in their effort to not tell.  What happens, then, is they write, “She bent at the knees, lowering herself into the chair,” instead of simply saying, “She sat.”  Don’t laugh – I’ll be you could find this in your early drafts! (I know I can!)  Authors spend precious words showing how a person rises from a chair, or how they get dressed. Don’t do this!  Tell actions that are common to all of us.  She tied her shoe, she made coffee, she answered the phone.  We all get what this looks like.
However, show actions that you want to make impact. If you want answering the phone to have impact, then have her reach for the phone, check the caller id, maybe hover her thumb over the receive button. Then push it before her courage fails.
Here are the easy rules for Show Don’t Tell:
Tell us everyday actions, SHOW us the important ones that reveal emotions.
            Show us the emotion, don’t tell us about it.
Are you bogging down your story by showing actions that have no emotional connection to the story?  Here’s a litmus test. Ask: How does the emotion impact your character?  Are you showing this emotion through words, action, though and perspective?
Better yet, take the MBT Challenge: Write the scene without naming the emotion! It’ll make you stretch and help you become a better writer.
Have a great NaNoWriMo week!  Go – write something brilliant!
Susie May
MBT Head Coach

THE NEAT, THE LOST, AND THE MESSY

With me it depends greatly upon what I am working on. If it is an invention or I am composing music or writing a song I prefer everything conducted with mathematical precision and to be highly organized and neat. Same if I am designing something, like a game or a set of design schematics. That’s pretty much how I work regarding business projects as well. Computer and hard files both carefully stored and organized. Desk neat.

If it is poetry,or I am writing a book or a novel, or it is artwork I’m very messy. Not disorganized, but messy. (Which are entirely different things.) I keep very careful and well organized computer files but I’ll have hundreds of notes and papers and notebook and research entries scattered about everywhere. I don’t know why that is, just the way I work. My office itself, by the way, is almost always neat and clean. My desk, drafting table, and in-office library shelves can be another matter altogether depending on what I am pursuing.

I’ve tried to be looser regarding scientific and technological and inventive work but that never works well. And I’ve tried to be better organized regarding poetry and art and writing and that doesn’t work well either. I think I either have different sub-conscious expectations in one field or another or that my mind just shifts into different work modes depending on what I’m doing.

The Psychology Behind Messy Rooms: Why The Most Creative People Flourish In Clutter

The Psychology Behind Messy Rooms: Why The Most Creative People Flourish In Clutter
Money

All our lives, we’ve been told to “be organized.” Organization has always been pegged as a direct key to success.

Whether at home, school or in your bunk at camp, organization is something that has been instilled in everyone pretty much from birth. On the other hand, being messy has been equally condemned and made to be a quick path to failure. And, honestly, no rebuttal could say otherwise.

I mean, what good can come from being disorganized, right? Perhaps more than you might think. More recent studies, conducted by the University of Minnesota last year, provide us with a new side of the debate. The pro-messy one.

There has always been this sort of “urban legend” that has floated around modern society deeming people with messy desks as having a high affinity for creative reasoning.

Frankly, I initially thought that people with “messy desks” had to be creative, out of necessity, to survive outside the boundaries of organization.

Last week’s take home test, still undone, in one corner. A page from last month’s Playboy ripped out and crumpled next to the bottle of cocoa butter in the other. Empty Arizona cans distributed across the surface, like a battlefield.

Your desk is a mess. Then again, it’s your mess, and thus, it feels very in-control. When you habitually fail to put things in their designated place, you’re bound to get creative figuring out ways to make everything, I don’t know, fit. And fit comfortably.

While it might look completely random to strangers, a lot of times, a person’s mess is very methodical – with respect to himself.

Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs, from the University of Minnesota, who set out to debunk this urban legend, didn’t confine her study to solely the desk. No, Vohs, clearly a creative mind, chose to think outside the desk. She just sounds messy. The creative kind of messy.

Using a paradigm consisting of one messy room and one tidy room, and a series of trials, Vohs concluded that messy rooms provoke more creative thinking – and provided scientific evidence!

The next question is, what exactly constitutes “creative thinking,” and how will your pig sty of a room help?

Creative thinking, in its purest form, is thinking outside the lines of “conventional” reasoning. When considering this, it should be no huge shock that messy rooms containing possessions misplaced from their “conventional” locations would promote creativity.

I suppose if you prefer to “lay,” and I use that term very loosely, your clean clothes on the floor of your bedroom, when the empty dresser is only a few feet away – you’re certainly thinking outside the lines of conventional reasoning. And that same concept could be applied to more abstract conception.

Consider this from Albert Einstein, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”

THE WELL OF WISDOM…

Most of this advice is quite good.

Advice on Writing from Modernity’s Greatest Writers

by

What sleep and plagiarism have to do with the poetry of experience and the experience of poetry.

I recently stumbled upon a delightful little book called Advice to Writers, “a compendium of quotes, anecdotes, and writerly wisdom from a dazzling array of literary lights,” originally published in 1999. From how to find a good agent to what makes characters compelling, it spans the entire spectrum of the aspirational and the utilitarian, covering grammar, genres, material, money, plot, plagiarism, and, of course, encouragement. Here are some words of wisdom from some of my favorite writers featured:

Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two. This you cannot do without temperance.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Begin with an individual and you find that you have created a type; begin with a type and you find that you have created — nothing.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Don’t ever write a novel unless it hurts like a hot turd coming out.” ~ Charles Bukowski

Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser

A short story must have single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~ Saul Bellow

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” ~ T. S. Eliot

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Good fiction is made of what is real, and reality is difficult to come by.” ~ Ralph Ellison

The problem with fiction, it has to be plausible. That’s not true with non-fiction.” ~ Tom Wolfe

You cannot write well without data.” ~ George Higgins

Listen, then make up your own mind.” ~ Gay Talese

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” ~ Mark Twain

And then, of course, there’s the importance of knowing what advice to ignore:

WORK WITHOUT CEASE

For the most part, very sound advice…

Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing and Daily Creative Routine

by

“When you can’t create you can work.”

After David Ogilvy’s wildly popular 10 tips on writing and a selection of advice from modernity’s greatest writers, here comes some from iconic writer and painter Henry Miller.

In 1932-1933, while working on what would become his first published novel, Tropic of Cancer, Miller devised and adhered to a stringent daily routine to propel his writing. Among it was this list of eleven commandments, found in Henry Miller on Writing — a fine addition to these 9 essential books on reading and writing, part of this year’s resolution to read more and write better.

COMMANDMENTS

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

ON YOUR MUSE AND YOUR GREAT WORKS

I recently saw a comment on the Facebook page of a friend of mine.

Discussing Muses. And it made me think about something I’ve been thinking about regarding Muses and Work for a long time.

So here is my thought on Muses and your Great Works (The really important Works of your life, in which I include Family and Friends and whatever you build and create or do in this world that is good and noble and worthwhile and may even last for awhile, or have some lasting impact.)

I also think a lot of modern people have a very inaccurate and romantic and even misguided idea of both what a Muse is and what the function of a Muse is in relation to your Great Works in life.

I look at it this way. Make every effort to be available to your Muse (who in my case is God) – you know, like your Muse is your friend. Or at the very least your trusted associate or valuable client.

Also call your Muse up. Take your Muse to dinner. Get feedback, exchange ideas. Take a trip together. Spend time with your Muse. Court your Muse. Hunt down your Muse when your Muse is busy elsewhere. Make an appointment.

Lotta modern people think Muses do magic. And that you can only summon them with enchanted circles and complex incantations. Or that they conjure themselves outta thin air as they wish like Fairy folk to ensorcel you at their own inscrutable will.

I happen to think that’s mostly all bullcrap and highly counterproductive to any form of Creativity or Work. It’s just not that complicated or uncertain a deal. I think the Ancients had it right about the Muse, not modern people. You dedicate yourself to your Muse, as you would a friend and your Muse will become your Friend.

But it is not your Muse’s job to write or Work for you. That’s your job. Far too many people confuse inspiration with effort.

Inspiration is indeed part of your Muse’s job. The actual Work part is all yours.

This is one of my prayers to my Muse by the way. Everyday before Work I pray it. But I never confuse my Prayer with my Work. Different things altogether. A Strategy is not a War, it’s just the way you go about fighting a war. And a Muse is a Partner, not a slave, or a fantastical unicorn made of fairy dust and unfulfilled dreams. If you have an unfulfilled dream then that’s probably (not always maybe, true enough, but probably) your fault, not the fault of your Muse.

 

The Great Works

Lord I submit to you now my Great Works. Be my eternal Muse oh Son of God, Christ Jesus. Be my Muse of the Soul, my Artistic, Business, Financial, Inventive, Invested, Musical, Scientific, and Poetic Muse. Guide and lead me where you will. Bring success to all I do under your influence, and possess and influence all I do or build or create. Use what I do to fulfill your Will. You know my heart, and my skills. Use me and all I do to achieve your Ends. Profit and prosper all I do, all of my business, all my work, all of my art, my every experiment, all I write, compose, invent, devise, draw, imagine, create, build, repair, rebuild, reform, decorate, design, test, prove, and demonstrate to good and greatness and to your wise employments. Guide my hand, heart, mind, and soul in everything I do and create and spread the fame and success of it throughout the world and throughout all time for the benefit of your Realm upon the Earth so that my work becomes an eternal part of Your Work. I surrender my work to you so that my accomplishments prosper and increase to your fame and glory forever.
Amen.

THE PEERAGE OF GREAT EQUALS

THE PEERAGE OF GREAT EQUALS

I don’t have any idols. Never have, and never will, either real or fictional. I have people I admire, and would like to emulate in some way or another (not emulate in other ways) but not idols. Certainly not like modern people seem to think of idols. In the sense that I’d like to be someone else or that I would ever fawn over anyone else. I never would. I have only ever wanted to be me. And I would never fawn over me, much less any other man. To me that is both low, and ignorant.

And I don’t think of the people I admire and would like to emulate in some way as my rivals, but rather as exemplars of some particular capability or trait. And likely and potential friends with whom I would work well together or some important project or endeavor. To me to instinctively think of other great men as my natural and necessary rivals is both low and arrogant. So in those senses I totally disagree with this sentiment.

However I think that the underlying implication is that you want to work your way up to being a Peer and an Equal (in the sense of your on capabilities) with other great men and women, rather than forever remain a subordinate or inferior (in action and ability). And in that respect I agree with the sentiment expressed below.

I have always believed in the Peerage (and Friendship) of Great Equals. I think that is what this is really trying to convey. Unfortunately modern people are so filled with the petty pop culture modern bullshit of fawning over and being obsequious towards others, sometimes of actually wanting to be and of idolizing others (rather than their abilities and capabilities), or of being jealous of others (a very petty and puny vice indeed), and just instinctively think of other Great Men and Women as natural rivals rather than what they truly are – potential Peers and Friends and as Great Men and Women with whom you could work to achieve even more together than you could separately.

So in that respect the only way far too many modern people seem to reflexively understand other Great Men and Women is as either idols and/or rivals. And thinking of other men as idols is just plain juvenile, whereas thinking of other men as natural and unavoidable rivals is not necessarily Wise at all. These habits and ideals seem more engrained by uncritical and unexamined instinct than by malicious intent. Still, I think them small and counter-productive for the most part.

But I don’t think of other men in that way at all. First of all I think of all men as my equals, neither inferior nor superior. And secondly I think of all men as being my potential peers if they so wish.

I think of it as the Peerage of Great Equals.

And that’s exactly what I mean to be, the Peer and Equal of Other Great Men.

But I will never idolize them, anymore than I wish to be idolized, nor are other men my instinctive rivals. Just as likely they are my as yet unrealized friends and peers.

 

WE BOTH KNOW

“Son, you can spend your whole life bitching and moaning about the problem. Or, you could just abandon the problem in favor of the solution. And we both know which is the wiser course of action, don’t we? But that’s not the real question surrounding your situation, is it? That’s never really the question. The question really is, why in the hell is it taking you so damned long to do anything about the answer?”

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE?

For those of you familiar with blogging I have a question to ask. I’d like to solicit your advice.

I have four blogs, one is my personal blog, one is my literary blog, one is my business and invention blog, and one is my gaming and design blog.

Three of my blogs are on WordPress, one is on Blogger. When each is old enough and well established enough (I just started them a couple of months back) each will go private, but for now they are hosted.

So here is my question: of these two platforms, WordPress and Blogger, which is better for building your audience and which is better overall if your aim is blog success to support your business and writing enterprises?

At this stage of my blog development process which do you think is the superior platform?

Which do you recommend, and why? Your advice is appreciated.

Homeschool on the Farm

Growing cotton, corn, and character

Duplicate My Success

How to be successful in internet marketing.

The Aramaic New Testament

Galilean Aramaic in the Context of Early Christianity

philobiblonia

Mihi sufficerent et stilus et tabulae (I only need a stylus and tablets, Baudri of Bourgueil, 11th century)

Submit your story logline and showcase it on this network. Or, submit to get your story made into a Video Pitch

Submit your logline pitch and we'll make sure it gets seen be 1000s. Over 1 million plus combined twitter and facebook followers

Axtschmiede

Sharp Words For Your Mind

Jarrad Saul

Travel, Lifestyle and Occasionally Waffle

Mephit James' Blog

From one GM to another.

The Public Domain Review

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

Art of Shaima

Fantasy Art and Illustration

Fantastic Maps

Fantasy maps and mapmaking tutorials by Jonathan Roberts

Matthew Zapruder

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

Susie Day | children's author

books for kids about families, friendship, feelings and funny stuff

The Millions

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

The Public Medievalist

The Middle Ages in the Modern World

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

Clive Thompson

Journalist, author, musician

Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Hey Did You Know I Write Books

Researchers in the world

Travel the world, meet researchers

%d bloggers like this: