I’ve Got No Talent!

I MET PAULA JEFFERY SEVERAL YEARS AGO in an online art group. The other day, we had a chat about how investing time (consistently) and effort (persistently) in any art form will eventually bear fruit—and she pointed me to this post, which she wrote for her own blog, but is graciously allowing me to share in an edited-for-length version with you. (And, yes, it’s about drawing, but really it’s about anything to which you’d like to apply yourself!)

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I’ve Got No Talent
Paula Jeffery

Not long ago, I read THE TALENT CODE by Daniel Coyle. In it, he tells about a group of children who were monitored before and during the time they took music lessons. After a couple of months, as you would expect, some were doing really well, some not so well, and most were in the middle of that bell curve. The researchers looked closely for common factors between those who were excelling. They looked at things like the amount of practice they did, home environment, anything they could think of that might influence the children’s musical ability. They could find nothing. None of the factors they anticipated had any effect at all.

Until … bingo! Before they started lessons, all the children were asked, “How long do you see yourself playing music?” Their answers ranged from “until the end of term” to “a couple of years” to “forever.”  The researchers were amazed to find those answers sat perfectly aligned on the bell curve! The kids who saw themselves as musicians playing forever were head and shoulders above the rest, sometimes by as much as 400 percent—even if they practiced less! The kids who decided their music career would only last until the end of term were the same kids who were falling behind. The only common factor was their attitude to learning music before they even picked up an instrument.

This is not some mysterious, ethereal thing: It’s attitude!

Every now and again, someone on social media will say, “You’re so talented,” which is kind and lovely, but sometimes what’s unspoken is: “You’re lucky. You can just do this stuff. You were born with this ‘gift,’ and I wasn’t.” But I wasn’t a talented kid! I took art at school because I was lazy and it seemed an easy option. I wasn’t even allowed to take the art exams because my work was so bad. My adult life was spent happily stating I couldn’t draw a straight line.

Fast forward to 2014. I was 59 years old. Going off-piste one day on a visit to YouTube Land, I discovered art journaling. It looked like fun. You didn’t have to actually draw or paint anything recognizable, you could splash paint about and glue pictures from magazines. From there, I did a couple of courses (shoutouts to Tamara Laporte and Effy Wild), and I painted figures and faces. Then I did ICAD (the index card a day challenge: shoutout to Daisy Yellow). One of the daily prompts was “eye.” I hunted on YouTube for How to draw an eye and found a step-by-step tutorial. I followed along and, OMG, I drew a recognizable, not-bad-looking eye.

This was an aha moment. These techniques could be learned! Next, I drew an elephant, again from instructions! I was so excited. I thought, “I could learn to draw,” and there was no stopping me. I joined groups. Someone recommended Danny Gregory, and I joined Sketchbook Skool, founded by Danny and Koojse, and amazing tutors from all over the world opened my eyes and freed up my pen. I joined drawing memes and drew 100 faces, one each day, to see if it improved my technique. And guess what? It did! Now, I’m taking part in Imagining, the latest Sketchbook Skool Kourse (where our last tutor was the amazing Stefan G. Bucher).

For the last three years, I’ve drawn nearly every day. I’ve worked at it and studied hard. I try not to compare myself to others, and I absolutely LOVE what I’m doing.

Here are three sketches of my husband, Graham. I did the first in 2014 as part of my 100 Faces project. It was a massive improvement on previous portraits. The second I did in 2017, and I really pleased with it. The final portrait I just completed.

2014

2017

2019

 

So, when someone tells me I’m talented, with an undertone that suggests they couldn’t do it, I am tempted to sit them down and gently tell them that “Yes, yes, really, you can.” Their next line is usually “I’m too busy.” So busy there is not time in the day to take five minutes to draw something, anything? I learnt a lot about “busy” when I studied for my Open University degree with women who had three kids under school age and wrote their essays at the kitchen table in the early hours of the morning. And got their degrees. If you really want to do something, you will find the time.

Then the argument can shift to this: “Well, I’m too busy doing other things I prefer.” That’s fine. That’s an “I don’t want to,” rather than an “I can’t.” (Occasionally, I hear an “I’m too busy” that really means “What I do is so much more important than your little scribblings.” But, hey, for those, I just nod and smile, nod and smile.)

Apart from my immediate (and very lovely) family and friends, social media has been the biggest catalyst for my artistic achievements. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have continued without the support of Facebook friends and groups. Inspirational, supportive, and non-judgmental art groups are amazing and always offer the message Yes, you can!

Now, I’m not afraid to say, “I’m an artist,” with no apologies (and no “amateur” in the mix).

Paula is an artist, writer, and self-publisher, who lives in the middle of England. Visit her site, PaulaJeffery.com or on her Amazon author page.

It’s About Time

THE FIGURE IN RED is doling out alms, and he’s doing it judiciously, measuring out equal amounts to each of the recipients. He’s also holding enough aside for his own needs. His scales help him keep his giving in balance.

As writers, we could do with a pair of scales. Not for measuring the cash we’re handing out, but for noticing how much of our precious time we dedicate to others and how much we conserve for our own use.

You see, writing takes time—and not just time that’s packed in around the corners of other obligations. Writing requires time that’s set aside as preciously as if the hours were so many gold coins.

Today, the Six of Pentacles, asks you to take charge of your time. It suggests you weigh out your minutes, hours, and days and allocate them consciously. Give generously, of course. But at the end of the day, make sure you haven’t broken the bank and left your writing to go begging at someone else’s feet.

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Six of Pentacles from the RIDER-WAITE TAROT.

A Tarot Writing Prompt Without the Prompt (Sorry!)

I’M WRITING A BOOK that includes tarot writing prompts (out next year—stay tuned!). In the process, I’ve roped twenty-one writer friends into guinea-pigging some of the prompts. Which led me to BFF Jill’s kitchen table last night, where we each took a running leap at the Ace of Pentacles.

While I won’t spill the actual prompt, I am going to share my response. (Jill’s beautiful piece and the prompt that elicited it will both be in the book.) As you read what I wrote, though, see if you can reverse engineer it and find a prompt to play with yourself.

THE STORY

He told me this story 25 years ago, and maybe he’s past it now. But maybe not. Anyway, this is how I heard it …

He’d gone out for the evening, leaving his recovering-cocaine-addict ex-wife babysitting their eight-year-old son. When he returned, the kid was asleep and his ex was on the couch watching a movie.

He plopped down to join her. Suddenly, as the camera pulled in close on the lead actress, he found himself flushed, the sweat of attraction prickling. He was hooked, he said, the same way he’d been when he first met his ex—and the coke-head girlfriend before her.

When the credits finally rolled, his ex-wife gestured at the screen. “That woman,” she said, “had a raging coke habit when she made that movie.” Then she shrugged the whatcha gonna do? shrug of a former addict, gave him a hug, and let herself out the door.

That’s when he got it: No matter what, no matter how many meetings he attended, no matter how many hours he spent talking to his therapist, no matter how many years of sobriety he himself had, if there was an active cocaine user in any room, the beacon of her addiction would blind him to every other woman there. He would stumble towards her as if he were hypnotized. And there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about it.

Except this: From that moment on, he could remind himself that if he was suddenly and heart-poundingly desperate to accept what a woman was holding out to him, for sure, that offer would eventually prove too good to be true.

Tarot writing prompt

So, that was my response to the prompt Jill and I tackled. And it surprised me. The memory of being told that story was buried deep. But it surfaced as I began to write.

As you probably know, timed writing to a prompt—committing ten, twenty, even thirty minutes to just letting our pen or fingers fly, not stopping to censor or reread—allows us access to parts of our mind we may not usually get to when we write more deliberately.

It can produce raw, rough, open-ended results. But that’s sort of the point. Either we just enjoy the process and appreciate the unpredictable product, or maybe we take what we’ve created and use it as a starting point for something else—fodder for a fresh direction we might not have accessed otherwise.

For me, sitting at Jill’s table, rain beating down, cats sacked out nearby, the prompt I’d created for the Ace of Pentacles triggered a long-held memory. I was happy just to get it out of my brain and onto the page.

Is it deathless prose? Not at all! It’s not even an entire story (although I could make the case that it has a character arc). Still, I wrote. And sometimes that is more than half the battle.

Now, you!

While you’ll have to wait until the book comes out to see the exact prompt we used Saturday night, here are two clues: The main thrust of it is contained somewhere in the final sentence—and it’s metaphorically illustrated by a major element of the accompanying tarot card.

But whether you want to play detective and puzzle out that prompt, or you want to read the story I wrote and let that—or the image of the Ace, or the idea of a rainy Saturday night spent sitting at a kitchen table with a friend—trigger a memory or story of your own, have at it! Let your flying pen or fingers provide a chute for your imagination to slip through onto the page.

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Ace of Pentacles from the RIDER-WAITE TAROT.

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Summer Writing Contests and Other Calls for Submission (aka: In the Court of Editorial Opinion)

WE SAY JUSTICE IS BLIND, and we hope that’s true. We also hope justice is at play when we send our writing to an agent or contest or journal. But who the heck knows? The person who gets first crack at our query or short story may well be an intern, someone whose job it is to sort the wheat from the chaff—before passing along what they deem the good stuff to the editor in charge.

But even if our best work does make it to the editor’s desk (wheat! wheat! wheat!), there’s no telling what sort of mood she’ll be in when she sets eyes on it. Did she have coffee that morning? Is she worried about her kid’s stomach flu? Is her boss on her ass about readership numbers? Frustratingly, such things—things completely out of our control—can sway the delicate balance of the scales of editorial opinion.

But here’s a short list of things that are in our control which can tip the scales in our favor:

  • Do your research: Be sure you’re submitting work that matches what your potential agent, editor, or publisher is seeking.
  • Follow their guidelines to the letter.
  • Send squeaky-clean copy. Every writer needs a proofreader. Beg, borrow, barter or buy the services of a good one to make your work look its best!
  • Create a strong opening line, followed by a strong first paragraph, followed by the rest of a strong first page. Often that’s all you get to catch an editor’s interest.
  • Finally, read this article: What Editors Want,” by Lynne Barrett, for The Review Review. 

Summer writing contests and other calls for submission

Once you’ve nailed the stuff in the list above, you’ll be all set to dig in to these resources:

New Pages is news, information, and guides to literary magazines, independent publishers, creative writing programs, alternative periodicals, indie bookstores, writing contests, and more. Visit their calls for submissions page.

Writer Unboxed publishes empowering, positive, and provocative ideas about the craft and business of fiction. Their contributors include bestselling authors and industry professionals. They also have a list of fiction writing contests for summer 2019!

Freewrite’s 2019 Writing Contests: The Complete Guide compiles what they consider the best essay, poetry, novel, and short story writing competitions for fiction and non-fiction writers.

Okay, now GO! Get published!

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of Justice from the AQUARIAN TAROT.

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The Crystal Ball: A Tarot Writing Prompt

SOME PEOPLE SEE THE QUEEN OF CUPS as a nurturer. Me? I see her as dialed into psychic radio A1R 24/7. Just look at how she’s staring at that cup! I bet she could spill some uncanny stories if she wanted to. But since we’re not likely to get them out of her, I’ll have to hand the fortune-telling chores over to you.

Tarot writing prompts

1) Has your life ever been significantly impacted by either a psychic reading or a sudden bolt of intuition? If so, get your story down on the page (exaggerating as much as necessary to convey the full drama of the situation!).

2) Write about someone who receives a mystical message from a medium, and either acts on the message or ignores it. Be sure to include high-stakes consequences either way.

3) Develop a character who inadvertently starts channeling telepathic information. What is it about? Politics? Health? Is her information accurate? Who does she tell? Does she consider it a curse or a gift? And which do you think it is?

4) There’s a slumber party: six girls and a Ouija board. What could possibly go wrong?

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Queen of Cups from the RIDER-WAITE TAROT.

Tarot Writing Prompt: Beast of Burden

LIKE MOST OF US AT SOME TIME, the figure in the Ten of Wands bears a burden. She may have taken on the weight of a family conflict or, perhaps, she is staggering under a load of debt. Or maybe she’s carrying a multiplicity of stresses—long work hours, a child’s ill health, car troubles—which have added up to overwhelm.

When we feel likewise burdened, a good list-making session can help us separate out the various elements that comprise our current load. Once they’re untangled, we might find we can prioritize, deciding which big sticks to break into kindling before the camel’s back is broken.

On the other hand, our burdens might seem too amorphous, undefined, too slippery to be corralled into a list. We may only know we are teetering at the edge of our ability to cope. If that’s the case, the following exercise might help us get a peek at our more nebulous—yet still weighty—burdens.

Let’s dig in.

Tarot writing prompt

If you, like the figure in the Ten of Wands, are feeling weighed down, but, unlike her, can’t point to the precise nature of the burden that has you bent in half, give this (admittedly weird) exercise a try.

Grab a journal and describe your burden as if it were an object: Include things like the weight of it, its size, its color, its shape. Where do you carry it? How does it smell? Is it new or old? What does it sound like? Taste like? What texture does it have? Is it flexible? Or is it rigid? How many moving parts does it have? Does it need a power source? (You might find your list is the basis for a poem!)

Once you’ve spent sufficient ink to give yourself a concrete (albeit metaphoric) idea of your burden, do the following: Write a scene in which your burden (now a living beast in your imagination) plays a role. You might turn it into a character or let it act as the proverbial elephant in the room. It’s your burden! Make it work for you—at least on the page.

And who knows? Maybe asserting your authority over a fictive version of your burden will have a ripple effect. Perhaps, after doing so, you’ll find your relationship to your real-life burden shifting, even if only by a single straw.

Some writing inspiration

The classic THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, by Tim O’Brien, is a novel of lists. Heartbreaking lists. Lists of things soldiers carry as they trek through their deployment in Vietnam.

Reading poems from Dorianne Laux‘s collection WHAT WE CARRY can make us feel less alone with our burdens. (Laux is also the co-author of THE POET’S COMPANION, a wonderfully inspiring and informative book, which will enrich writing of any kind, not just poetry.)

Beast of Burden,” by the Rollings Stones: Put in your earbuds and play it on repeat.

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Ten of Wands from the SPIRAL TAROT.

Telling the Truth: A Memoir Writing Prompt (with Tarot)

THE QUEEN OF SWORDS IS A STRAIGHT-UP TRUTH TELLER. And she’s not worried about offending people, either. But, while this may very well make her the patron saint of memoir writers, she knows it’s not necessarily easy—nor safe—to follow her lead. Memoirists may be wary of putting their truth on the page. They may be concerned others will judge them. Or, they may feel guilt about revealing the harmful (or deceitful, immoral, or criminal) behaviors of someone close to them. They may even fear retribution from such a person.   

Writing the truth can be a serious—and, sometimes, risky—business. That’s why the Queen of Swords recommended I include this in my Terms and Conditions: Writing is deep work that comes with its own risks and discoveries. While I will endeavor to support you in your writing, I am neither a therapist nor an attorney. However, as you continue on your writing path, you may find the services of one or both offer you valuable guidance.

So, yeah. Serious business.

If you find yourself stymied when wanting to tell your story while avoiding upsetting someone else, the Queen of Swords may be able to help you slice through. Hers is the sword of discrimination. It separates the hard, nutritious kernels of truth from the chaff of words written to please others. And she brooks no nonsense from family, friends, or coworkers when she’s doing her honorable work.

At least, not in her first draft.

You see, we travel a long road between our first, exploratory draft—in which we record as much of the truth as we can remember and feel and understand—and our final draft, polished and ready to send out for publication. And there are many rest stops in the miles between those drafts. Those rest stops are perfect places for us to pause and consider whether to hit delete on passages that feel too hot, too pointed, too dangerous, or to keep them intact—until our next revision, at any rate.

Tarot writing prompt

With the clear-eyed Queen of Swords as an uncompromising example, try this: Pull out a memory that stings. Perhaps it’s of a secret you were told to keep. Or maybe it’s a memory of a trusted person hurting you or someone else. Or of something you did, something about which you carry shame. Or fear. Or both.

Whatever you’re ready to uncover, write about it as fully as you can—just for yourself, for the moment. You might need to do this in increments. Start with ten minutes. Then return for another ten-minute session … and another and another, until you have all the parts of the story and the accompanying feelings on the page.

Take as long as you need. Days. Weeks. Months. Years.

While you’re in the process, you might want to hide your notebook or camouflage the file you’re creating. Do so, if it will make you feel safer. And when you review what you’ve written, if it’s too much, too hot, you might decide to delete or shred the story in its entirety. You might also, as suggested above, consult with a therapist or counselor as you journey along this path. Do whatever you need to make you feel safer, protected, supported.

With these caveats in mind, then, if you have a wound in your writer’s heart, consider lancing it with the sword of truth. It’s your life. Write it down.

I’ll go first, okay?

This is a story I’ve feared sharing, both because I might be judged harshly for my behavior and because in it I point at my father’s difficult behaviors. It’s a double-memoir-whammy-bind!

What happened is this: A long-lost relative contacted my family (damn you, Ancestory.com!). This relative had a particular interest in meeting my father. But they were my long-lost relative, too. And I got there first. Then, I opened my mouth and toads and snakes fell out as I described my early life with my father, who, good points/bad points, could be violent, and unpredictably so.

Soon after, my father died. Without this person ever contacting him.

For the next several years, I ran a losing race with guilt. But one night, as I was circling the track yet again, a friend sliced to the heart of the matter. “Did you tell that long-lost relative the truth about your father?” she asked. “Your own truth? As honestly as you could”

Well, yes. I did.

“Then,” my friend said, “it is what it is. People make their own choices.”

She’s right. My father chose to act the way he did. I chose to disclose. The relative chose not to connect.

It is what it is.

So, while this story isn’t actually about writing down the truth (although, I have now written it down), it is about the risks we take when we decide to share our truth, and about the possible consequences of doing so.

The fear of such potential consequences keeps many would-be memoirists from writing their stories in the first place. Embarking on a memoir can raise a lot of questions, like: Whom will this hurt? How will I be perceived? Will I ruin relationships—either my own or those of the people about whom I write? Even if I’m telling the truth?

When I speak with a writer who faces questions like these, I never suggest they cast aside these considerations and just publish their raw truth—consequences and concerns and family be damned. But, first draft? The one only you will read? There, you can look your truth square in the eye and let the vorpal blade [go] snicker-snack.” Then, in a cooler light, see whether or how or if it serves you to release that truth into the world.

Memoir-writing resources

Mary Karr is a brilliantly honest memoirist (and poet). You might find her THE ART OF MEMOIR a helpful read.

The post “How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Have to Be? 5 Principleson Jane Friedman’s blog offers up some memoiristic nuts and bolts for your consideration. It is written by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann, who co-authored YOUR LIFE IS A BOOK.

The National Association of Memoir Writers considers “Challenges and Truth in Memoir” in the linked article.

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Queen of Swords from the RIDER WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

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Backstory: Writing from the Rear View Mirror

YOU KNOW HOW THINGS LOOK DIFFERENT IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR? A backwards glance can offer us a new perspective on where we’ve been. Like a literary rear view mirror, backstory lets readers know where we—or our characters—have come from. In doing so, backstory can reveal a character’s motivation, which, in turn, may elicit sympathy for that character’s present, less-appealing actions or attitudes.

WHAT IS BACKSTORY?
A definition
Whether we’re writing memoir, fiction, or a piece of literary journalism, backstory gives context to the story being told. It comprises events—internal (an anxiety attack, for example) or external (loss of a child, for example)—which have occurred before the story starts and are relevant to the story being told.

For example
In a story about a dissolving marriage, the loss of the couple’s child would certainly be relevant. If the child died before we meet the couple, then the death and the characters’ subsequent emotions are backstory—relevant past events.

However
In a story about a woman wanting to break the World Land Speed Record, the loss of the main character’s best friend’s child would likely not be relevant to the unfolding of the main story thread.

HOW CAN WE USE BACKSTORY MOST EFFECTIVELY?
Wait, wait, don’t tell me!
Opinions (of course) vary about how soon is too soon to incorporate backstory. For instance, brilliant film-and-novel-writing guy Robert McKee of STORY fame says to avoid backstory completely for the first three chapters! He believes this gives readers a chance to attach to the forward-moving story, creating a reason for them to care about what’s come before.

Other quite successful writers, however, actually start with backstory. In fact, thriller writer Julie Compton and I created a backstory workshop based on her well-received novel RESCUING OLIVIA, which introduces a fairly lengthy backstory passage quite early in the book. (CLICK HERE to read a post that uses RESCUING OLIVIA’S opening for an example.)

It is typical, though, for writers to hit the ground running. They’ll often start a first chapter in media res (in the middle of the present action), and then, in chapter two, turn back to consider earlier events to give their opening context.

Just say no to the info dump!
An “info dump” is a big chunk of information—especially backstory—“dumped” onto the page all at once. Whether your dump truck delivers your backstory via dialogue, narration, or internal narrative, readers will have trouble processing, and thus, remembering, backstory given in too big a lump.

Breadcrumbs
Instead, think of backstory as breadcrumbs. Scatter small bits along the unfolding story path, informing your reader of what’s happened in the past on a need-to-know basis.

Ways and means committee
Among other techniques, you might deliver backstory via

  • flashback (a past experience given in scene—including sensory detail and a “real-time” unfolding of events)
  • dialogue (your characters simply discuss events that happened before the story started)
  • or as internal narrative (your character remembers events and considers them internally).

Light touch
No matter how you deliver it, though, use as light a hand with backstory as you can. Err on the side of less is more.

Novel-writing resources

Enough about me! What do other folks have to say about backstory?

I’ve already cited Robert McKee’s STORY, but it bears repeating—and reading.

Tom Farr of The Writing Cooperative has some good pointers in his “The Art of Revealing Backstory,” up on the TWC site.

You might also like this WRITER’S DIGEST article: “How to Weave Backstory Into Your Novel Seamlessly,” by Brian Klems

Finally, if you want to thumb your nose at my light-hand-with-backstory approach, here’s a super-successful memoir that shovels in about one full ton of backstory—in pretty large doses—and does so beautifully: WILD, by Cheryl Strayed.

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Thanks to Caleb Whiting on Unsplash for Creative Commons photo.

Tarot Writing Prompt: Character Chess

AS CHESS PLAYERS KNOW, figuring out a strategy takes time. You need to contemplate all your options—and anticipate, as best you can, what will happen as a result of each.

In this way, the Two of Wands is a bit of a chess player. A successful merchant, he is sitting pretty in his villa by the sea, examining the opportunities available to him and evaluating their risks. Since he’s so comfortable, any move he makes must offer enough potential return to make gambling what he’s got worthwhile.

Will he? Make the move? Take the risk?

He doesn’t have to. After examining his alternatives, the Two of Wands could happily turn his back on the possibilities and just retire to his pleasant villa, where, no doubt, a wonderful breakfast has been spread for his enjoyment.

Which is why he’s not actually a chess player. An actual chess player doesn’t have a choice. She has to make her first move, and then another, and another—until checkmate (or stalemate) occurs. In professional chess, there’s even a timer to push the players along. But there’s no timer for the Two of Wands. No real urgency to make a move. Because of this, he’s only banked embers, only stored potential—unless he acts.

So, what will that delicious breakfast cost him? If he turns his back on his opportunities, he may simply never know.

Tarot writing prompt

Put your character in a hard-earned sweet spot. Her life is just right. Describe it. Have her revel in it. Then (because if we’re not growing we’re dying), offer her an option, one that’s almost irresistible, but would require her to move out of her comfort zone. Let her equivocate. Evaluate. Then dial up the pressure. Ratchet up the stakes.

Write about two alternative outcomes:

1) She holds. (What does she lose by not taking the risk? And what cascade of events occur predicated on that loss?)
2) She leaps. (What pushed her to take a chance? And what happens—next and next and next—because she did?)

Novel-writing inspiration

For further ideas on why a character might hesitate to act, check out this blog post on reluctant heroes.

And, even more to the Two-of-Wands point, there’s a fabulous scene in the film STRANGER THAN FICTION, in which the Will Ferrell character locks himself in his apartment trying to avoid his story—a story that finds him, nonetheless.

For an example of high-stakes choice-making, (re-)read the Frank R. Stockton short story “The Lady, or the Tiger.”

You might also enjoy checking out some of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories!

Finally, because the evergreen Lewis Carroll should always have the last word, when possible, I present, for your further inspiration when dealing with dithering characters, “The Mock Turtle’s Song,” from ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND.

“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,
“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle – will you come and join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”
But the snail replied “Too far, too far!” and gave a look askance —
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.
“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France —
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

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Thanks to U.S. Games Systems, Inc., for kind permission to use the image of the Two of Wands from the RIDER WAITE (SMITH) TAROT.

 

Writing Prompt: Move Your Chair

IS IT JUST ME? OR DOES WHERE WE WRITE AFFECT WHAT WE WRITE?

For instance, my novelist pal Margaret writes at home. Each morning at five she rises, lets the dogs out, puts on the kettle, boots up her laptop and settles onto her quiet porch, where she taps out lovely, quiet stories of single women, their dogs, and the porches where they sip tea.

Margaret’s kid, Sam, writes in night cafes. Scrawling long-hand, he records the frantic rattle of the twenty-something life that throngs around him. Sam’s work has sirens in it—flirtation, drugs, disaster—but no quiet stories. No dogs.

Certainly, writing doesn’t always reflect the spot where it’s produced. Just as certainly, writers—creatures of great habit—often have, in addition to a favorite pen or writing program, a favorite place to write. Like Baby Bear’s chair, the spot we’ve carved from a world of chaos can feel just right.

But once habit takes the short leap to superstition (I can only write in the bathtub? at my table at Starbucks? in the library? at the zoo?), we’ve given our creative power away.

Writing prompt

Where’s the last place you’d ever want to write? Where would you love to write but haven’t? Like Winter, try moving your writing chair.

If you’re a writer who needs absolute ear-plugged silence to get a word on the page (Hello, me!), take a trip to a local music hot-spot and write while guitars and synthesizers fuss and wail.

If you keep yourself “far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,” take yourself to a local mall one Saturday afternoon. Then, pen in hand, capture what most of America’s really like!

If you’re an out-and-about, hip sort of writer, settle yourself on a mossy seat in a forest or by a lake. Get your own heartbeat on paper. Write about the quiet in green ink.

It’s a big ol’ world out there. Take your laptop on a field trip. Grab some of that big ol’ energy for your writing. Who knows? Like Milo, you might find a new, just-right spot—and maybe even a new, just-right voice to go with it.

 

This post is a revision of a piece I wrote in 2008 for my then-blog, Workshop Porkchop. I was an adventuring writer at the time. Now, more of a stay-at-home writer, this is a good reminder for me. I hope it inspires your writing and my own!

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