February 2020 archive

Top Writing Coach Tip #1: Get the Writing Conference Delivered to YOU!

QUICK! WHAT DOES A WRITING CONFERENCE OFFER?

  • Big name authors discussing their genres and journeys.
  • Experts teaching literary craft.
  • Agents and editors sharing insider FAQs about the publishing industry.

Also, ballrooms filled with fellow writers, a chance to pitch your book or have your first pages critiqued, a bookstore to sell your latest work, networking opportunities galore … and, of course, too much mediocre hotel food.

All at a fairly steep cost, right? Even a local-to-you writing conference is likely to set you back $500. Add travel and lodging for an away-from-home weekend, and you’re looking at twice that, or more.

But if you believe the golden information gleaned from authors and industry experts forms the heart of a writing conference, I’ve got great news! You can get that delivered right to your door—every month, at the tiniest fraction of the cost!

All you need is a subscription to a top-notch writing magazine. Here are four excellent magazines for your consideration:

In each issue, these magazines provide a plethora of topics you’d expect to see presented at a writing conference—like agent spotlights, new-author features, craft articles, and industry guidelines. And these pieces are written by the same experts you’d expect to see on a discussion panel or speaking from a conference platform!

For instance, articles in the most recent issue of WRITER’S DIGEST (just arrived in my mailbox last week) include,

  • The Art of Breaking Character: when, why, and how to have your characters act, um, uncharacteristically.
  • Steering the Ship: twelve tips for researching a nonfiction project.
  • The Frugal Writer’s Guide to Everything: ways to save big money on literary expenses. (Hey! This blog post is right in line with my pal Elizabeth Sims’s article!)
  • The Power and Peril of Prologue: when, how, and why to use a prologue—and what risks you run with agents and editors by doing so. (This in-depth, super-helpful article is by another pal, Ryan Van Cleave!)
  • The WD Interview: with Pulitzer Prize-winning author of LESS, Andrew Sean Greer. (No, Andrew’s not a pal—but I did love LESS!)

And that’s only half the full-length articles this month. There are also ten columns, the Writer’s Workbook feature, and Inkwell, with its writers’ guide to editors.

It will take me most of the month to digest (ha!) every morsel of this month’s WRITER’S DIGEST—chewing on its contents in bite-sized pieces that are easier to process (for me, anyway) than the weekend binge of a writing conference.

Top Writing Coach Tip

Here’s what I suggest:

1) Subscribe to a great literary magazine. 2) Read all the articles in each issue (you never know what information will come in handy!). 3) Earmark pieces that are relevant to your current project(s). 4) Discuss what you learn with writer friends (over coffee, and you’ve got the makings of a mini-conference!). 5) Feel reassured you’re keeping your writer self current on what’s going on in the writing world.

Of course, attending writing conferences is great, too! There’s lots of interactive magic afoot in those ballrooms. Just don’t get your hopes up about the food.

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Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review!
Want to know more about hiring a writing coach? Click to read Should I Hire a Writing Coach in THE WRITER magazine.

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A Not-Too-Sweet Love-Letter Writing Prompt

BACK IN THE DAY, Shakespeare, sick of the sticky-sweet love sonnets of his time—the kind that compared women’s eyes to placid lakes and their tresses to molten gold—penned a send up, “Sonnet 130.” In it, the Bard refutes any likeness his lover might have to the beauties of nature. Instead, mocking his sonnet-making contemporaries, Shakespeare harshly negates his love’s charms. And yet … and yet …

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130) 

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; 
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; 
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight 
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know 
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.     
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare      
As any she belied with false compare.

—William Shakespeare

Writing prompts

1) Now, that you’ve read (and enjoyed?) “Sonnet 130,” try modeling it! Is there someone (or something) you love in an unconventional way? Or whom you see as unconventional? How does your love stray from the ordinary way of things?

Even trickier, can you do the opposite of damning with faint praise by, as Shakespeare does, praising with a two-edged sword of truth?

2) Alternatively, write a love letter (or a poem or a personal essay or a scene for a novel or a short story) in which you or a character declares love for someone—at length and in detail—without using the word “love” or any of its synonyms!

(Bonus points for creating a sonnet! You’ll find descriptions of various sonnet forms and some instructions to help you get a sense of how they’re constructed on the LITERARY DEVICES website.)

Writing inspiration

Want some musical inspiration? Here’s a link to Sting’s song “Sister Moon,” which appears on his album NOTHING LIKE THE SUN.

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review!

Cut and Paste: A Crafty Writing Prompt

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE KID, I was mesmerized by the sound of Captain Kangaroo’s scissors chomping through construction paper. I still love paper crafts—so it was a given that I’d love this LITERAL cut-and-paste writing exercise.

This prompt, which appears in poet Pat Schneider’s wonderful book WRITING ALONE AND WITH OTHERS, is a bit complicated—but, to me, the scissors and glue (not to mention the sometimes eerie results) make it worth it. (And, of course, it’s almost as cool if you do an electronic cut and paste!)

Writing prompt

STEP ONE: WRITE
Create (or dig out from your writing journals), two short poems, five to ten lines each. One poem should have a gentle, happy, or peaceful tone. The other poem should have an agitated, angry, or distraught tone.

Alternatively, you might use a paragraph (of equal-ish length) of two prose pieces. Again, one piece should have a gentle, happy, or peaceful tone, and the other, an agitated, angry, or upset tone.

STEP TWO: CUT
Cut your poems—or paragraphs—apart, line by line as they appear on the page (NOT sentence by sentence). Here’s an example from the beginning of a paragraph I found in my journal to demonstrate how/where to cut:

I wandered in my neighborhood today and saw that the Halloween 

cut here >  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

decorations were up everywhere, giving a sort of orange-and-black cadence 

cut here >  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

to the crisp October afternoon. This lifted my spirits, almost as if . . . 

cut here >  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

STEP THREE: PASTE
Alternating lines from your first and second pieces, paste them together to make a single new piece. Don’t worry! It’s not supposed to make literal sense. But the poetic sense the juxtaposed lines create can seem quite uncanny.

FOR EXAMPLE
I’ve created an example for you using two short poems—really just two ideas, only a couple of sentences each. The green lines are the first piece I wrote—the quiet one. The black lines are the second—the uneasy tone. I didn’t edit, just broke the lines apart and shuffled them back together. I did tweak the punctuation—and I’m not sure it improved matters. Maybe it would be better without punctuation?

Quiet now, neighbors gone to sleep, to rest.
The tension builds like paint; it flakes in scabs.
No more radio, backyard conversations
that reveal the raw red rash of remarks beneath
the buzzing tools that tame the yards,
the civility that is thinner than the peeling paint.
No more laughter
that chips when hands are extended to be shaken.
Only swaying branches, a quiet cloud,
or the window rolled down to wave, like in self-defense,
the bats dipping and silent on the invisible breeze,
the white flag of proximity.

If you’re struggling to loosen up your writing, this is a great way to lose control of intending a meaning and, instead, discovering the meaning that happenstance may provide.

Writing inspiration

The Dadaists, and then William Burroughs, created similar techniques. Check out the Cut-Up Machine on the Language Is a Virus site to play further with this and other writing games for grownups!

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review!

If the Queen of Wands Were Your Writing Coach: Some Tarot-Headed Writing Advice

IF TAROT’S QUEEN OF WANDS WERE YOUR WRITING COACH, she would be your enthusiastic champion, your star-spangled cheerleader! She’d laud your literary talent and encourage you to hold to your creative vision, even when others question it. You see, she believes your pen is your magic wand—that it brings to life the imaginative worlds that live inside you.

An independent sort herself, the Queen of Wands would advocate for your independence. She’s not a joiner, so she wouldn’t necessarily suggest you find yourself a critique group. But she’s a hard worker and would expect you to be one, too. In her no-nonsense style, she’d tell you dig in—and maybe hand you a bullet-point list like this one to show you exactly what she means:

  • Read widely in your genre—especially books that have been published in the last three years.
  • Check out blogs and YouTube videos that feature literary agents weighing in on what makes a book attractive to them and what doesn’t.
  • Take classes—online (Gotham Writers has a good reputation) or at your local community college, no matter. Just open your heart to how others approach the craft. Then, take what you like and leave the rest.
  • Create a writing schedule—and stick to it.
  • Finish a draft, then get a good reader to review it (you might hire a pro, ask the smartiest smarty pants in your book group to take a look, or trade for pet-sitting with a neighbor who talks regularly and intelligently about the books she reads).

And after you’ve done all that, the Queen would give you a high five, pat you on the back, and tell you, in her heartiest voice, to go back now and revise, revise, revise.

Writing inspiration

For some fired-up examples of literary Queens of Wands who dig in, check out Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and Amy Tan’s “Angst and the Second Book,” from her essay collection THE OPPOSITE OF FATE (which I quoted in a post on surviving the writer’s winter).

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Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the Queen of Wands from the PHANTASMAGORIC THEATER TAROT.

Need help with your book? I’m available for book coaching and manuscript review!

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