May 2020 archive

A Good Writing Prompt Can …

IF YOU’RE WILLING TO LEAP INTO ITS INVITATION, A GOOD WRITING PROMPT CAN catapult you out of your writing doldrums, unstick your project if it’s stuck, and fling your work in fresh and unexpected directions! And, interestingly, a prompt doesn’t need to be complicated to work its magic. Take, for instance, the writing prompt novelist Heidi Julavits used to rediscover her writing mojo—after children and other obligations had back-burnered her literary life.

Over the course of two years, most evenings Julavits started a journal entry with this prompt: “Today I …” From that simple start, she would record details of her day—her thoughts, activities, pleasures, regrets. But she didn’t stop there. Instead, she allowed herself to stray far from the day’s events. Like a dragonfly, she would flit from topic to topic, shifting freely on the winds of association, revisiting the joys and puzzlements of past experience, as well as conjecturing about the future, often with only the most tangential of connections.

The result? A NEW YORK TIMES Notable Book, her 2015 memoir, THE FOLDED CLOCK.

I absolutely recommend reading THE FOLDED CLOCK—yes, for pleasure, but especially for inspiration if you keep a journal or are writing a memoir. But even if neither applies to you, you might want to take Julavits’s approach for a test drive. Try this: Set aside ten or fifteen minutes each evening for a week or two and write, starting with “Today I …,” then leap to whatever thought attracts your attention next.

I’ll give it a try myself!

(TRIGGER WARNING: So, when I let myself free associate, a lá Julavits, I ended up writing about cats. And, of course, the hardest thing about having cats is their inevitable loss. Which is where this writing went. Just letting you know.)

Today I … was drowsy. If not for the cats needing breakfast, I would have slept late, lying in bed, half-dreaming for hours. But the cats were not to be refused. Are cats ever to be refused? Not in my experience. Which includes a lot of cats. Present cats, of course, but past cats, too. And that’s where the heartbreak lives, with the cats of the past and their various ends—which started, in my cat-life, with the disappearance of our black Persian Sukie.

My mother was beside herself with worry—truly, I think, much more worried about Sukie than she ever was about my sister or me. I was eight or nine. Old enough to want to reduce my mother’s anxiety. So I told her I thought I could see Sukie under the house—a wooden farmhouse we were renting that year, its placement up on concrete blocks creating a long, dark crawl space beneath. Dark enough that it was plausible that a black cat could be hiding there, invisible in the murk, except for his eyes glinting if you shined a flashlight towards him. Which I didn’t, not having a flashlight. Although I reported to my mom that I had seen that green glint, wanting to buy her some hope.

In fact, that hope was fleeting. A neighbor pulled up to give us the news. Sukie was (predictably, as I all too soon came to understand) dead. Hit by a car. Like Floffleas and Wobble and, as the years unfolded, several other cats—until we understood that an indoor life for cats might be better for all concerned.

However they passed—traffic, illness, age—so many of the cats I’ve lived with have left an enduring mark. There are dents in my heart where they’ve curled themselves in its various chambers, as if that red beating muscle were a pillow. The special ones—Umphrey, Bertie, Jake, Pea Mouse, Roo—left lasting hollows behind in the exact shape of themselves, their permanent selves, the selves the cars and cancers couldn’t obliterate. “Past cats,” that’s what Jill said, when Jake and Bert died too young and within months of one another. And she was right. Because now there are Jack and Winter and Milo, present cats, each one kneading at the flesh of my heart, softening it up so it will hold their image long after they, too, have passed on.

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.

 

A Writing Coach’s 5 Simple Tips for Sharing YOUR Writing on Social Media

WE WRITERS CAN BE A QUIET, PRIVATE TRIBE. But we also have voices, stories, and ideas we long to share. And thanks to technology, today, we don’t need to wait for agents, editors, or publishers to give us the nod! Instead, we can explore various social media platforms, looking for those that allow us to offer our thoughts and experiences to readers most likely to appreciate what we have to say.

While we may be cautious about stepping into the teeming river of social media, if we’re smart in our approach, the interwebs present myriad opportunities for us to publish, build an audience for our work, and even—gasp!—get paid!

Tip #1: Blog: Yes, blogging is still a thing. Your blog is your own personal spot on the internet. There, you can write what you want, when you want, as often as you want. Be consistent enough, and you could develop an appreciative readership.

Wonder what you’d write about? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Write about incidents from your life. We humans are very interested in how other humans conduct their lives.
  • Free-write to prompts and share what you create. You’ll find, like, an actual TON of prompts if you just search “writing prompts”!
  • Post a daily inspirational message to uplift yourself and your readers.
  • Share a brief excerpt from something relevant you’ve read elsewhere (with links and proper attribution, of course), and then let your readers know your thoughts on the topic and why you find it important.
  • Post recipes you’ve successfully completed—with pictures, please! (If you like this idea, you might enjoy reading the cooking memoir JULIE AND JULIA by Julie Powell, who food-blogged her way to a book and film deal! )

Tip #2: Guest blog: You might not know this, but Google rewards those who regularly publish content with improved rankings. But even the most prolific blogger gets dry at some point. And that’s exactly the point at which they might be thrilled to have you write a guest post for them.

You’ll most likely want to make this offer to a blogger whose work you read regularly and with whom you have had some positive contact. For instance, perhaps you comment on their posts every few weeks or otherwise let them know you appreciate their content. If you’re engaged by what a blogger writes about, chances are good you have some thoughts that you could develop into a thousand-word guest post. Ask them if they’re interested, and if they are, write a draft for their approval.

Guest blogging is good for you and good for your blogging host! You get exposure and they get a break! And … drum roll, please … some writers actually make a fair portion of their living by writing guest blog posts! Check out “How to Write a Guest Blog” on Lifewire for further insights and suggestions.

Tip #3: Join the conversation: Writers and non-writers alike talk about all sorts of things on social media. Join the conversation! Find Facebook or LinkedIn groups focused on topics you’re passionate about and offer your thoughts to folks who share your interest. Also, since writers are readers, they love to discuss books. Engage in literary conversations by writing book reviews. Amazon and Goodreads are two great places to start!

Tip #4: Instagram for writers: Instagram may be the hottest platform of the moment. And while it seems the perfect spot for social media influencers and producers of visual content, like photographers, writers can get some traction on Instagram, too!

Instagram lets your followers know what and where you’re writing. Here are three articles to get you started on using this social medium to boost your sharing power:

Tip #5: Submit your work on Medium … and maybe get paid! If you don’t know about Medium, I’m about to make you very happy (I hope!). 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.

May the virtual road rise up to meet you, writer: Whichever of these ideas piques your interest, go explore. The internet is a whirling hub filled with gazillions of words that have to be composed by writers and are read every day by readers hungry for insights and opinions and a new take on our shaky old paradigm. Go forth and share your voice with the cyberworld!

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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Photo credt: Mike Eisenman, via Creative Commons

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Writing Young Adult Fiction? A YA Author Invites YOU to Connect!

I WANT TO INTRODUCE YOU TO SOMEONE! YA writer Alina Smith and I have worked together since November of 2017—three awesome years and counting!* In that time, I’ve seen this committed writer dig in and learn how to plot the heck out of a story … then dig even deeper to find truthful motivations for her characters. Those motivations, in turn, lead to powerful arcs that give her stories real guts (and will deliver true satisfaction to her readers!).

I count myself lucky to be on Team Alina and am so happy to pass on her invitation to connect with you. So, without further ado, I give you Ms. Alina Smith!

What’s up guys! I’m Alina. Although I have a pretty sweet day job—I’m a songwriter and producer in a music team LYRE, which has worked with artists and bands across genres, from Fall Out Boy to K-pop girl group Red Velvet-–over the past few years, I’ve gotten excited about writing stories. Particularly futuristic YA stories with chilling twists on current technology: think BLACK MIRROR populated by hormonal teenagers.

I started writing my first YA novel three years ago and got about two-thirds of the way in before being pulled into a new direction, one which merges my music career and my literary passion. You see, in the last few years, LYRE has become known for working with digital creators: influencers with millions of followers across all social media platforms. As my music partner, Elli, and I wrote songs with these YouTube and Instagram stars, I felt myself getting immersed in their world: a world where your worth depends solely on the numbers of likes and followers on your socials. It got me thinking: What if this world was exacerbated further? What if the numbers on your socials meant life or death? That’s how the idea for my latest book was born. It’s called “Influencer.”

As I’ve been writing “Influencer” (one-and-a-half years and counting!), I’ve done plenty of Google searches. I’ve checked out writers’ blogs, advice columns, and YouTube channels. It’s been fun watching published authors share bits and pieces of their journeys. But it got me wondering: Are there any not-yet-published writers sharing their process with the world? Their aha! moments and their blocks, their triumphs and fails, their I-just-finished-this-act underwear dances, and the moments when they just wanna throw their laptop through the wall? I poked around, but there didn’t seem to be much: no hungry new writers diving into their process and allowing others to snorkel beside them.

That’s when it hit me: I should share my own writing process! My struggles with beat sheets, my ever-evolving characters, what it’s like to find time for writing alongside another creative career—and all the other myriad aspects of the novel-writing process that I find fascinating. Whether I become a hit author or end up throwing my story in the trash and setting it on fire, I want to highlight what it’s like to be a first-time novelist. And I hope to connect with anyone else who’s going through the same thing.

So, please join me on this fun (and slightly terrifying journey) on my YouTube channel: Alina Writes a Book.

And if you’re writing YA fiction, too? Please, drop me a line on Instagram or Twitter. I’d love to hear about your story and your journey creating it!

Writing coach

* Alina’s loving our collaboration, too! She recently wrote, Jamie is such a fantastic coach! Her approach is very intuitive. No matter what I’m working on, from plotting to character development, she always has an intelligent, unique perspective. If you’d like to take your writing to another level, I strongly recommend Jamie!

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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Is It Too Late? Writing in Our Middle and Later Years: A Writing Coach’s Perspective

I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO WRITE! I was just waiting for the kids to leave the nest (or to be able to work part-time, or to retire, or …). I hear this or some variation from aspiring authors pretty regularly. And I understand! Writing takes a certain amount of time and quiet and concentration—and all of these are in short supply when we’re raising kids and working full-time. But once the day comes—kids successfully launched, work obligations managed—and you’re ready to get serious about that long-held writing dream, do you worry you’ve left it too late?

What you know now will help you as a late-bloomer writer!

Writing, as much as any art form I know, has a long curve. No matter when we start, we’ve got to dig in and learn the craft, as well as figure out our own best approach to getting words on the page reliably. In later life, we may have developed more patience for both of these tasks. In fact, we may even have an edge over our younger selves!

At fifty or sixty, we quite likely have a better sense of how we learn than we did earlier in life. Will we get more from an online class? One-on-one instruction? Or taking a deep dive into a pile of books on the subject? Or do we do best when we just jump in, accruing knowledge on an as-needed basis as we go?

In mid-life (or later), we are also better acquainted with our own habits than we may once have been. Such self-awareness is invaluable when we’re engaging in a pursuit that requires the type of long-term commitment writing asks of us. For instance, by this point, we might know we are absolutely a morning person, not a night owl. That means we can create a schedule that has us writing at our most productive time of day.

We might have also learned strategies that keep us from spinning our wheels. For instance, we once may have dug in our heels, wasting precious energy trying to wrestle a problem into submission. But now, we’re more likely to let the problem go, to step away and take a walk or a nap, understanding that sort of soft focus is more likely to bring us to an elegant solution.

Even more important? With a few extra years under our belt, we understand more about what it means to be human than we did in our youth or early adulthood. And this, above everything, will make what we write today all the more valuable than what we would-a could-a should-a written a few yesterdays ago.

Get inspired by older writers!

In ON WRITING, Stephen King says, … agents, publishers, and editors are all looking for the next hot writer who can sell a lot of books and make lots of money … and not just the next hot young writer, either; Helen Santmyer was in a retirement home [in her eighties!] when she published AND LADIES OF THE CLUB. Frank McCourt was quite a bit younger [66] when he published ANGELA’S ASHES, but he was still no spring chicken.

Taking a quick spin around the web, I discovered a few more notable, late-publishing authors to inspire us who have left the art of writing for our retirement years.

Grace Burrowes always kept a diary, but the best-selling romance author was more reader than writer—until she wrote her first novel when her daughter left for college.

Anna Sewell, author of BLACK BEAUTY, began writing at the age of 51.

Kit de Waal’s first novel, MY NAME IS LEON, was published when she was 56.

Norman MacLean, who wrote A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, started writing at 70.

Harriet Doerr’s first novel, STONES FOR IBARRA, was published when she was 74 years old. It went on to win a National Book Award.

Then, there’s Sir Christopher Bland, who was 76 when his first novel, ASHES IN THE WIND, was published. Today, the Royal Society of Literature has established the RSL Christopher Bland Prize, to encourage the work of older writers. The £10,000 prize is awarded annually to an author who was fifty or older when they were first published.

And if all that doesn’t assure you that you are in good company no matter how old (or young) you are when you first get the writing bug, there’s a great article in THE NEW YORKER, by Malcolm Gladwell, titled “Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?” that might do the trick.

You might also like a short post I wrote a couple of years ago called “Is It Too Late: Writing Practice.” It features an encouraging article on late-blooming writers by author and literary advice columnist Roxanne Gay.

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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Thank you to U.S. Games Systems, Inc. for kind permission to use the image of the Seven of Swords from the DRUIDCRAFT TAROT.

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