Teacher’s Pet: A Tarot Writing Prompt

IN TAROT CIRCLES, the Hierophant, also known as the Pope, can get a bad rap—for being an uber-conservative, repressive, by-the-book sort of guy. But, really, he might just represent any clergy person, mentor, or teacher—however rule-bound or not. And I’ve had some great teachers!

My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Nethercote, for instance, gave me props for my mad reading skills. The next year, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Smith (who looked like Aunt Bea from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW), thought I was a fine communicator and took the time to introduce me as such to my third-grade teacher, who subsequently always listened to what I had to say!

High school was tough, but my tenth-grade English teacher, whose name is lost to memory (and to various adolescent indulgences), was a bright light, encouraging my poetry-writing. In Seattle, at Shoreline Community College, theater instructor Charlie gave me a directorial role, saying she thought I had leadership potential.

As I make this list, other teachers—a horseback-riding instructor, an art teacher, a math professor—arrive at the threshold of my mind, nodding approval across the years. Their long-remembered encouragement has boosted my self-esteem and bolstered my belief in my own abilities when I’ve needed it most.

This, then, is a thank you to them all.

WRITING PROMPT

Revisit your memory of a supportive teacher—or create such a champion in the life of a character who could benefit from one just about now.

Alternatively, if your life has been stingy regarding mentors, consider this your chance to rewrite history and provide yourself one you wish you’d had. Once you’ve got him or her on the page, let your self-created mentor provide a bit of guidance. Chances are it will be some of the best advice you’ve ever received!

When I told my art pal Paula Jeffery about this prompt, she shared this poem with me:

Just Words
       by Paula Jeffery*

Before home time, every day,
That sleepy, can’t-write-any-more
Time of day,
Low sun picks out chalk dust
Suspended in air, over kids,
Who only want to meander
Across the park,
For tea and Thunderbirds.

Most kids. Not all kids. Not us kids.
We were Mr. Gardener’s kids,
And the slowest of us perked,
Eyes bright, legs crossed
At the end of the day,
Warm with anticipation.
Home was not pressing
On our nine-year-old minds

 Unexpected Mr. Gardener,
Generous, mild, and
Gentle sharer of knowledge,
Balancing on the brink
Of retirement,
Who, at the Christmas concert,
Awed us, floored us
With soaring solo Emmanuels.

Before the bell, we gathered round.
He held the book aloft and cracked open our little worlds
With Beowulf.
No diluted, convoluted picture story form,
This was all bloody battles,
Dragons, a severed arm.
A teacher transformed
Animated, passionate, Mr. Gardener
Held us all in thrall

 We went home through the cloakroom,
Summer air heavy with the smell
Of plimsolls and sour milk,
Minds alive and buzzing with heroes and monsters,
Chasing sword play across the park.

I thought, Imagine. You can have all that
With just words.

MORE WRITING INSPIRATION

TEACHER, by Sylvia Ashton-Warner

THE FREEDOM WRITERS, by The Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell

EDUCATING RITA, 1983 dramatic comedy, starring Michael Caine

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

***

*Artist, writer, self-publisher Paula Jeffery lives in the middle of England. Visit her at http://www.paulajeffery.com.

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of The Hierophant from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

Whisper, Shout, Hit “Send”!

WHILE WRITING CAN BE A FORM OF SELF-EXPLORATION, it is also a way to communicate our thoughts and stories with others. About this, my novelist pal MK Swanson says,

There is no writer without a reader. Writing is a performance art. When I was little, I used to make up stories that my girlfriends and I would act out—sometimes with puppets, but usually with our bodies. One time, Kori and I pretended to be in the Nautilus, being dragged down into the depths by a great sea creature, a story inspired directly and entirely by the sound the washing machine made as it shifted cycles.

We performed as if someone was watching and applauding. I thought I was the most talented, funniest writer in the world, as I directed my friend and myself to run around the porch, captaining the submarine. Now, when I try to make something new, and I don’t think anyone will ever see it, it falls flat. An audience pulls art into the third—or maybe the fourth—dimension.

I agree with MK. When I write with an audience in mind, it gives my work a sense of purpose—traction, focus—that it lacks when I am writing only for myself.

In SHOW YOUR WORK! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (see a list of those ten ways, below*), author Austin Kleon discusses the many benefits of sharing our creative work with others—especially how doing so can make us “findable.” Reviewer D. Bivins says of the book, “This is a refreshing kick in the butt about believing in yourself as a creative person and jumping in with both feet. The basic idea is to put yourself out there even if you (or your work) are a work in progress.

And while we may not currently be availing ourselves of pre-Covid in-person opportunities to show our work (remember open mics and free, monthly bookstore writing groups?!), there are myriad contact-free ways to offer our writing to the world.

You could always start a blog, join an online writing group, or send out stories to literary contests—all great options for sharing your work. You might also try one or more of the following suggestions if you’re seeking fresh avenues to show your writing to others:

Postcard poems
Every August, there’s an event called the Postcard Poetry Fest. Essentially, once you register at the site, you’re sent a list of addresses. You then write a (possibly terrible) poem each day for August’s 31 days and mail it to one of the 31 recipients on your list.

Can’t wait until August? A friend and I used to declare an arbitrary period our own personal Postcard Poems month. Then, for the next 31 days, we would email daily mini-poems back and forth. Often goofy, sometimes poignant, our “poems” generally started with a place name (fictional or not) and were written from the perspective of an imagined persona who was there visiting. Here’s an example:

Dear Dolores,

I’m in Quincy, Alabama, and the almond trees are in high bloom. So are my allergies. My nose, red like a rose, won’t win me any suitors. But my days and nights are full enough without thoughts of another to cloud my view of the stars.

Wish you were here.
Myra

Throw a Zoom! prose-and-poetry party
Back in the day (basically, pre-February 2020), friends and I used to gather regularly to eat, chat, and read our work to one another. Zoom! makes this even easier, now. No need to arrange a ride—or even wear proper pants. Just find your tech-iest friend and get them to make it so.

Publish on Medium
If you don’t know about Medium, I’m about to make you very happy. Medium is a platform for writers. And readers. Here’s their mission statement:

Medium is not like any other platform on the internet. Our sole purpose is to help you find compelling ideas, knowledge, and perspectives. We don’t serve ads—we serve you, the curious reader who loves to learn new things. Medium is home to thousands of independent voices [um, that means “independent writers,” which, by definition, could include you!], and we combine humans and technology to find the best reading for you—and filter out the rest.

Interested in writing for Medium? Start here.

Submit to THE SUN MAGAZINE‘s Readers Write
A well-regarded, ad-free, glossy print and online monthly, THE SUN magazine not only publishes poetry, interviews, short memoir, short fiction, and fabulous black-and-white photographs, they also open their pages to their readers!

In their Readers Write section, they publish twenty or so short nonfiction pieces each month. These pieces are written to themes (like “ghosts” and “getting started”) listed on the website. As their Readers Write submission guidelines say, Topics are intentionally broad in order to give room for expression…. Writing style isn’t as important as thoughtfulness and sincerity. There is no word limit, but we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the section before you submit.

And if your piece is chosen for publication, you’ll receive a six-month subscription to the magazine!

More ideas for showing your written work
You’ll find more ideas and resources in A Writing Coach’s 5 Simple Tips for Sharing Your Writing on Social Media. Choose an approach from those choices, or from any of the ones listed above. But whatever way suits you, do as Austin Kleon suggests and be “open, generous, brave, and productive [… and] share something small every day.”

* Here are Kleon’s ten ways:

  1. You don’t have to be a genius.
  2. Think process, not product.
  3. Share something small every day.
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
  5. Tell good stories.
  6. Teach what you know.
  7. Don’t turn into human spam.
  8. Learn to take a punch.
  9. Sell out.
  10. Stick around.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Words and Pictures: 3 Writing Prompts to Spark Your Next Story or Poem

WE WRITERS CAN BE AS VISUAL AS WE ARE VERBAL. Each of the following prompts capitalizes on that by inviting you to start with images and find words to accompany them. Use these exercises to spark a new story or poem—or to just have fun!

Writing Prompt 1: That looks good enough to eat!

  • Find an image of a prepared food dish that intrigues you—because it looks delicious, or ridiculously complicated, or for any other reason. Then, without knowing the ingredients, write the recipe. Now, write a scene in which your dish is prepared and served—for better or worse.

If you particularly enjoy this exercise, you might like the journal ALIMENTUM: THE LITERATURE OF FOOD.

Writing Prompt 2: Every picture tells a story

  • Children’s picture books and graphic novels both rely as much on illustrations to tell their stories as they do words. For this prompt, find half-a-dozen compelling images (funny, absurd, poignant, intriguing) online or in a magazine. Cut them out or print them, then arrange them so they tell a story, which you then write.

If you have fun with this, your inner comic-book writer might like MAKING COMICS by Scott McCloud or DRAWING WORDS AND WRITING PICTURES by Jessica Abel.

Writing Prompt 3: Colorful language

  • Go to the hardware store and grab a handful of appealing paint chips. The color names are often almost poetic! Combine some of them to create a found/collaged poem—or write a story about someone who names paint colors for a living. Be sure to include plenty of color words in whatever you write.

If you’re interested in another color-centric prompt, check out this post: “Color My World.”

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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A Writing Coach’s Welcome to Writers

WHEN YOU VISIT MY SITE FOR THE FIRST TIME (hello!), I want you to feel welcomed. Also, because you’ve likely come to find out if a writing coach can help you achieve your writing goals, I want to introduce myself and explain the process!

I’m Jamie Morris

I’m a full-time writing coach who’s been coaching writers for well over a decade. Among other writerly pursuits, I directed Central Florida’s Woodstream Writers for ten years, mentored writing consultants at the writing center at Rollins College, have taught creative writing classes and presented at numerous writing conferences, was a featured writing coach in THE WRITER magazine, and co-wrote PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK

And you?

We may not have met yet, but I bet you’ve arrived here because you’ve been researching “writing coaches” and “book coaches”—and because you have an idea for a book! However, you might be feeling a little stuck. Maybe you’re trying to figure out exactly what you want to say, or how to organize your thoughts, or what’s the best way to plot your story. Or maybe you just wonder how to handle such a big project with so many other demands on your time!

So, can a writing coach offer the support—accountability, know-how, strategic planning—to help you move your book ahead?

Of course I think so! But you may not be so sure! That’s why I offer a free consultation.

That (free!) initial consultation

I offer a free twenty-minute phone consultation—and it’s exciting for both of us! During that initial chat, I’ll want to hear all about your writing goals. (I might even give you a few pointers right away!) And, most importantly, you’ll want to get a feel for my style: Am I supportive and encouraging? Am I knowledgeable about your project? Do you find me generous with my insights, right from the get-go?

All of this—and that undefinable quality called “chemistry”—will let us know if we might work well together.

Writing coaching steps

Now, truthfully, I don’t work with every writer who calls. We want to make sure we’re a good fit. So, if I think there might be a better coach out there for you, I will make a few suggestions—or even offer to introduce you to them.

If it is feeling right (yay!), we’ll decide how to begin. We might agree that developing a solid outline for your book is job one (I did co-write a book on plot, after all!). But if you already have an outline (or you’re a pantser!), we’ll create a plan to launch a draft.

Either way, our work together will be unique—because you’re unique! However, it will generally look something like this:

  • Every week or two, you’ll send me what you’re working on—an act, outline, chapter or scene, perhaps—and your current questions about it.
  • After I review your pages, we’ll meet by phone or video to dive into the material you’ve shared.
  • At the end of the call, we’ll decide on our next steps—always moving your book toward your publishing goals.

(And just so you know, our calls will be deep and engaging—and a ton of fun, too!)

First-50 page manuscript review

But what if you already have a draft? Great! Then we can start with my review of your first fifty pages. In that case, using my “literary sixth sense” and years of experience in the book world, I’ll identify the strengths of your work, as well as areas that would benefit from further attention. Among the many points I’ll consider are:

  • style and tone
  • plot and pacing
  • structure and arc
  • audience and genre
  • character and point of view

After the follow-up consultation that’s included in your review, you’ll have a bushel of fresh ideas tucked into your literary knapsack. Those ideas will guide us as I coach you through your revision.

Wondering what’s next?

From here, you might visit my rates page.
Or ask me a question.
Or book a free initial consultation!

Thank you!

I appreciate you visiting my site. If you like what you see here, let’s make a date to chat. But please know that, even if we never meet, I wish you and your book the very best!

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

Cats and Writers: A Writing Coach’s Purr-spective (Sorry!)

MAYBE YOU’RE NOT A CAT LOVER. If that’s the case, you might not understand the enduring connection between cats and writers. Here are some thoughts on the matter:

  • Cats are companionable. They’ll hang around wherever you settle to write. (Sometimes, they want to sit on your keyboard. Sigh. But if you put low boxes on your desk, they’ll likely curl up there instead of on your hands.)
  • Despite the above caution, cats are relatively undemanding. Unless they’re hungry, they won’t interrupt your work—nor will they make critical comments. Pretty much, they think you and your writing are awesome.
  • Not only are they noncritical, cats are quiet. Unlike, say, dogs, cats sleep right through most anything that’s going on, inside or outside your house.
  • The only noise your companionable cat is likely to make is a soothing purr. An old wive’s tale says the purr of a cat knits broken bones.* I don’t know about that, but I do know that the sound knits my frayed nerves when a scene or paragraph is going awry! This is why I keep boxes filled with purring cats on my writing desk at all times.

This YouTube video features a cat purring for three minutes. If you don’t have cats of your own, cue it up the next time your story is going south and you want to pull your hair out by the roots! Chances are the sound of this lovely little cat will calm you—and a calm writer is one to whose mind unexpected solutions spring!

*Our old friend science is definitely pro-cat—for writers and for other folks! Recent studies have shown that purr vibrations may help heal infection, promote bone strength, and even reduce the risk of heart attack!

Need more convincing that cats are a writer’s best friend? Check out this Writers Write article: “The Relationship Between Famous Writers and Their Cats”

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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10 Tips to Make You Look Like the Smart Writer You Are!

I WAS READING AN EXCELLENT BLOG POST by a writing-industry professional (who will remain unnamed, here, because this is not a grammar-shaming post), when I stumbled over his use of the word “hone” where he meant “home.” The sentence went something like this: “You’ll improve your chances of garnering agent representation if you hone in on agents who are enthusiastic about your genre.”

Unfortunately, the verb “hone” means to sharpen, while the verb “home” means to aim for or close in on—which is what the writing pro intended: “We should home in on (aim for) agents who like what we’re writing.” (“Typo,” you’re thinking? Me, too! Until he repeated the mistake later in the post.) Admittedly, this particular misuse is a pet peeve of mine. Still, this is a guy who is giving aspiring authors high-level publishing advice on a regular basis. He should get this right.

But, you know, English is an odd language. And we English speakers may confuse words that are similar in sound and meaning. For instance,

  • home and hone
  • imply and infer
  • compose and comprise

As writers, we generally like to be precise in our use of language, though, as that is the raw ore we meld into the gold of our literary work. Also, we are smart folks! And, whenever possible, our smarts should shine like a halo around our brilliant heads—untarnished by avoidable usage errors. Hence, the following list.

10 tips to make you look like the smart writer you are

Tip 1: Take care with your use of commonly confused words. Amber Nasland wrote an article for MEDIUM that lists 31 commonly misused words to watch for.

Tip 2: Double-check for spelling errors—especially (because you’re a writer!!) misspelling the foreword of a book as “forward,” and the afterword as “afterward.” If you’re not 100% certain of a word’s spelling, google!

Tip 3: Get yourself a fun, readable editing guide and keep it at hand when questions of correctness arise. I like COPYEDITING & PROOFREADING FOR DUMMIES, by Suzanne Gilad.

Tip 4: Know your style guide. If you’re writing articles for publication in periodicals, you’re likely to be expected to follow AP (Associated Press) style. Non-scholarly book-length work? It’s Chicago style all the way (usually, lol). Style guides clarify things like which numbers to spell out and how to punctuate street addresses for your intended audience—among about a gazillion other arcane rules. Whether you like the idea of a style guide or not, though, your written work should adhere to one—unless you make a clearly defined house-style guide for yourself.

(Believe me, the pain you experience as you try to accept this professional requirement and figure out how to apply it to your own projects will be worthwhile: Your correct style usage will make you look smart to editorial eyes for years to come—which is the point of this entire post.)

Tip 5: Subscribe to THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE ONLINE. In their own words, “It is the indispensable reference for writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers.” A year’s subscription is (currently) $39. Knowing who to turn to in the middle of the night to help you avoid embarrassing usage mistakes? Priceless.

Tip 6: Unless you’re deliberately trying to create interest with an experimental approach, format text conventionally. (For dialogue, for instance, start a new indented paragraph with every new speaker.) Research or review the formatting requirements for your application. Good formatting makes you look like a hotshot right out of the box.

Tip 7: Keep language fresh! I generally have THESAURUS.COM open when I’m writing. It helps with spelling (yay!) and offers me new ways to express what I’m saying. (Fresh = reader interest. Good spelling = reader respect!)

Tip 8: Read your work out loud. And I don’t just mean your dialogue! When I read every word of a blog post aloud, I find sticky sentences, boring passages, repetitious use of language—and TYPOS! I don’t know why I can’t SEE all these things on the page. But evidently I can’t. Thus, reading my work aloud has saved the day (and my readers’ sensibilities) more times than I can count.

Tip 9: It’s easy to become word-blind to our own work. The more important a piece is to you, the more important it is that you have it professionally edited before publishing it or sending it out.

Tip 10: Enjoy the process of drafting. Let loose! Freewrite, explore, ignore all the rules of grammar, spelling, style, and anything else your English teacher (or I) taught you. But once you’ve got what you want on the page, make sure to polish that diamond to a high shine—using any of the tips above.

See how smart you are?!

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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Permission? Denied: A Frustrating Writing Prompt!

TAROT’S EMPEROR IS MY NEMESIS. Committed to authority, structure, systems, and patriarchy, he’s the STOP sign, the NO ACCESS barricade, the guy manning every single freakin’ security checkpoint. Ask him for permission, and your request is likely to be stamped: DENIED.

The Emperor makes the rules and hires minions to enforce them. He’s the senator voting on the speed-limit bill, which the police uphold. He’s the president of your homeowners’ association, who, having established how short you need to keep your grass, has his secretary send you threatening letters if it’s grown over a half-inch. He’s the manager of the hair salon at the far end of the waterfront, where there are no public restrooms, who instructs the receptionist no to let you in to use theirs—no matter that you’re about to pee your pants.

All of which is fine. I mean, someone’s got to keep chaos at bay. But, dammit, when I’m faced with one of the Emperor’s implacable minions? When I need something just one toenail across their seemingly arbitrary line? For instance, when the stern librarian turns down my request for a measly three-day extension on THE SECRET LIFE OF OWLS? Then, I’m not a fan. Nope.

(FRUSTRATING) WRITING PROMPT

Perhaps, like me, your character just wants an extension on a library loan—or permission to paint a butterfly mural on her garage. Or maybe she’s facing something more serious. Temporarily strapped, she might be seeking food assistance to tide her over. Or coverage for critical medical treatment. Or political asylum! Whatever her need, the resounding “no” she receives from the Emperor or one of his representatives may seem like the final, defeating word.

Unless she’s prepared to take matters into her own hands, that is.

So, what do you think? Do some brainstorming, pen in hand, about:

  • what your character might need,
  • what rides on her getting it,
  • whether she’ll buck authority if she has to,
  • and, if so (yay!) what bold steps she’ll take in her bid to govern her own life.
(IMPERIOUS) WRITING INSPIRATION

WENDY AND LUCY, 2008 drama, starring Michelle Williams, adapted from “Train Choir,” by Jon Raymond

BUCKING THE SARGE, by Christopher Paul Curtis

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, by George Orwell

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

***

Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of The Emperor from the RIDER-WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

 

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The Flip Side of Writing

READING is the flip side of writing. Every author, teacher, or writing coach worth their salt will suggest you read widely in your genre if you want to publish—Stephen King* not least among them! We’ll say this (often) because we know you’ll learn as much about structure and style from considering how your favorite authors artfully construct their stories as you will from even the most instructive books about the writing craft.

Further, reading—in one’s genre or out of it—reliably restocks our pond of creativity, so that, when we go angling for new ideas and approaches, there are always plenty of fish to choose from.

Also, as poet W. H. Auden is reported to have said, “We read to learn more of what it means to be human.” And it does seem that often we are—consciously or unconsciously—seeking wisdom of some sort when we pick up a book.

There are a gazillion or so lists of books to consider adding to your reading pile. Among them, THE NEW YORK TIMES Book Review, BookBub, and Goodreads.

A little closer to home (like, here, on this blog!) are a couple of reading lists you might want to peruse. The first, 20 (or so) Novels That Have Impacted Our Lives and Imaginations, was compiled during a very literary walk with my best pal Jill. The second, a post titled Support Black Writers, has a list of lists—Black-authored books that PBS, Penguin Random House, and HuffPost consider must-reads.

*And, as you may know, Stephen King, who reads voraciously, widely, and well, includes a list of 96 books he considers important in his ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT. You’ll find that list on Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

Wherever you are in your reading life, keep turning those pages. Reading not only fills the creative well—it fills our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our imaginations.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

* * *

Thank you to Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of the Nine of Pentacles card from the EVERYDAY WITCH TAROT

Two Sticks of Story Dynamite for Novelists and Short Story Writers

USED TO BE, I’D FIND GREAT STORY IDEAS in the newspaper that got tossed at my door each morning. Recently, though, I haven’t even had to get out of bed to gather inspirational goodness. That’s because a couple of bloggers have been delivering fresh literary fodder to my inbox on the regular. Here are two such ideas. Either could blast a humdrum story out of its complacency!

1) Inventing narratives

Hip biz guru Seth Godin wrote recently about inventing narratives. He said, That story in your head? It’s invented. It has to be. It might be based on some things that actually happened…. But it can’t possibly be a complete and detailed understanding of everything.

Seth sees this creative interpretation as problematic. That’s because Seth is not a novelist! Novelists are probably especially prone to inventing narratives—and probably particularly good at it! They might tell stories about everyday occurrences, family history, or the big issues life flings at us. For instance, a novelist could make up a story to explain the behavior of someone who snatched a parking spot from her, the reasons her parents favor her sister, or why one person got a terrifying diagnosis but she did not.

Which is actually pretty awesome! (Maybe not in real life—but in our literary lives, for sure.) That’s because it’s a short trip from misinterpreting a situation to taking misguided action on it—which, in fiction, can lead to exactly the sort of trouble needed to drive our story full speed ahead!

Got a dead spot in your plot? A place where not enough is happening? Play with this idea:

  • Your main character misunderstands another person’s motivations—believing them to be acting out of malice, when that is far from the truth!
  • Even worse, your MC takes vindictive action in response to the story she’s concocted.
  • What bad stuff comes tumbling down the hill to complicate her life as a result?
  • How the heck is she going to dig herself out of this mess?

2) Alter egos

Clever tarot writer Kate at DailyTarotGirl.com has been promoting the subversive advice of her “evil twin,” Veronica, for years. As I pondered a fresh approach to complicating a story I was working on, I thought about Veronica and realized the damage an alter ego could do to a plot!

Just imagine it! What if your main character had an alter ego? A persona she allowed to say, eat, or do whatever her daily persona was constrained against? That alternative personality might be braver, stronger, or kinder than she is in her regular guise. Or that other personality might be sneaky and underhanded. Or, if you’re writing a thriller, she might even be murderous!

And that’s just a start! What kinds of literary trouble might such a character generate? The possibilities seem endless—and fascinatingly, conflict-inducing-ly, complicatedly fraught!

So, that’s it for this week. Now, go forth and blow up your plot with these or any other trouble-inducing ideas. Just light the fuse and stick your fingers in your ears. After it gets over the shock, your story will thank you for it!

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

* * *

Thank you to Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of the Moon card from the EVERYDAY WITCH TAROT

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The Dreaded Writing Project: A Writing Coach’s Easy-Peasy, Lemon-Squeezy Solution!

FACING A DREADED WRITING PROJECT? School paper, report for work, difficult email, tricky scene in a story? Try this: Mentally choose a person you know (in real life or any fictional hero/ine or historical figure) who would be sympathetic and/or interested in your material or plight.

Now, for the moment, forget the (seemingly impossible) formal requirements of your project. Instead, focus on your imagined friend and start by writing them a letter in which you share with them all your thoughts and ideas and concerns about the topic at hand. (This would be in the nature of a personalized data dump. No pretty turns of phrase required!)

So, for example: If I were feeling stuck explaining the directions to this particular exercise, I might first write it as a note to my friend Jill. As one of my BFFs, Jill is almost always sympathetic. As a writer, she’s almost always interested. (At least in my imagination, which is really all that counts at this moment of my deep stuck-ed-ness!)

Here we go . . .

Dear Jill,

I’ve got a great exercise to help folks when they’re overwhelmed by a daunting writing assignment or project. I want to tell them they can get tons of words and ideas on the page if they’ll just write everything that comes to mind as if they were writing a friend a free-wheeling letter about the project.

I don’t know if you remember, but I used to do exactly this when we were in college and I was stuck with a deadline on a paper I didn’t want to write! For instance, I might have to report on THE CANTERBURY TALES, and not have a clue about how to start—so I’d write a letter about it to you!

In that quck-scribbled note, I’d dump everything I knew about Chaucer, willy-nilly, including my attitude about him and his wild, winding parade of pilgrims—and my thoughts about my dratted professor.

Once I’d “told” you everything I had in my head, THEN I’d begin to write in earnest. Reviewing what I’d shared with (imagined) you, I’d sort out what was relevant from what wasn’t. Next, I’d organize what was left and add in anything that was missing. And, voila! I had a solid draft. All because I was just writing to you….

Thanks for “listening”! I think I can take it from here!

Love,
Jamie

Even if this feels simplistic, so easy it’s unlikely to unstick your massive writer’s block, I still suggest you give it a shot. Apply this easy-peasy method to a frustrating scene in your novel, a letter of reference that you have to write but don’t really want to, marketing copy, or the currently-awkward outline of your non-fiction book proposal.

I swear by this method to turn my mountainous writer’s block into an easily shifted molehill.

Writing coach

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review! And check out Should I Hire a Writing Coach” in THE WRITER magazine.

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Mountain illustration from the ANNA.K LENORMAND.

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