August 2020 archive

Tough Writing Project? Get It Done!

FACING A DREADED WRITING PROJECT?

Are you facing a writing project—school paper, report for work, difficult email, tricky scene in a story—that’s become a bit of a bear to tackle? 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. writing project

Now, for the moment, forget the (seemingly impossible) formal requirements of your writing 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 your writing project. Use it on 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.

Writing/Not Writing: With 2 Non-Ironic Writing Prompts

How do you find your writing prompts?

IT’S FRIDAY. I’m talking to my friend Mary, who is an excellent writer—but who no longer writes. I actually have several friends like that. But it’s okay. She’s a wonderful human being, anyway. Still, it makes me wonder why writers stop writing. Have you ever put down your pen (or the electronic version thereof) and simply walked away from your literary endeavors?

If so, have you returned to the life of the word?

And if you have, how long did your hiatus last? Do you know why you stopped? What was the last writing prompt you worked with? What did you learn about your relationship to writing while you and it were on a break (Ross and Rachel reference: sorry/not sorry). What made you come back? Are you a better writer for stepping away? Did you change genres? What about your writing changed since you quit for a while?

If you’re anything like me, when you’re not writing, your life just isn’t complete. While I may be relieved at not having to show up at my keyboard on the regular, the hole writing leaves is a gaping one. And like most gaping holes, the writing hole has a prodigious gravitational pull. So (like you? but not like Mary—yet), I always get sucked back in.

Writing prompts

1) Wherever you are on the writing/not-writing continuum, you might want to journal a bit about your relationship with the word-hungry beast. Use any of the questions posed above as a writing prompt and starting point for your personal exploration regarding your love/love-hate relationship with writing.

2) You might also want to take your experience of writing/not writing and put it to fictional use. In that case, here’s a writing prompt for you:

Write about a character who steps away from an art form (writing, painting, trumpeting …) that has had great significance for her. Perhaps she gives it up for a more practical path—accounting or nursing or parenting, for instance. Or because she loses her connection to her muse. Or because she feels like she’ll never achieve greatness in her field. Or….

Write a series of scenes about your character’s return to the pen/fiddle/garden. Start with the moment in which she first realizes will never feel fulfilled until she gets back to her keyboard/easel/pastry board. Next, have her act on that epiphany: Does she just walk away from her current life? At what expense? Or does she try to integrate her art into her non-art circumstances? And how does that work out? (Use this opportunity to create big trouble for your character, as someone in her life is likely to rise up and complicate her new-found decision, if not block her creative path altogether!)

Personally, I’m not big on writing (or reading) about romance or romantic writing prompts. But I am deeply interested in how people—fictional and actual—conduct their creative lives. So, if this idea sounds good to you, and you find it has legs, let me know when your novel or memoir about reviving a creative life is published. I’ll be first in the pre-order line at Amazon. Because I am always delighted to read a tale about the hot, sweaty pursuit of a tall, dark, handsome life in the arts.

Writing inspiration

OLD IN ART SCHOOL (a memoir about a writer/historian enrolling in art school at an advanced age), by Nell Painter

A WORK OF ART (a novel about a young artist who gets stopped in her creative tracks by life), by Melody Maysonet

UTOPIA AVENUE (a novel about a band’s “Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder…. of music, madness, and idealism.”), by David Mitchell

Writing coach

Need help with your book? Wondering why hire a writing coach? 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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Giving the Wrong Character the Benefit of a Doubt: A Novel Writing Tip

Novel Writing Tip: Benefit of a Doubt

IN REAL LIFE, IT’S GREAT TO GIVE SOMEONE THE BENEFIT OF A DOUBT. (For instance, while you know Janice might be hiding your pearl necklace somewhere in her room, because she’s your best friend, you’re willing to give her the benefit of a doubt and accept her claim that she hasn’t seen it since you wore it to Sarah’s wedding.) Yes, a novel writing tip is giving people the benefit of a doubt allows them the chance for a do-over or to make amends. (You know, like sneak your pearl necklace back into your jewelry box while you’re not looking.) But unless they actually change their (bad) behavior, the amends are pretty much null, right?

I think we’ve all met that person. Heck, we may have all been that person! Sometimes, a habitual way of being—however detrimental to self or others—simply overrides the impulse to change. In that case, no matter how many benefits of a doubt they receive, some folks aren’t going to head down a better path anytime soon.

This is tough when it applies to someone close to us—in real life. But what if the recalcitrant person is a character in your novel? Well, then! You either have an excellent, if weasel-y, antagonist. Or you might have a deeply flawed protagonist. In either case, you’re in possession of literary trouble of the most excellent kind!

Here is a novel writing tip: what could that benefit of a doubt look like?

  • allowing for the possibility that she didn’t really shove that boy from the monkey bars—maybe she was just reaching out to grab the kid when he fell
  • allowing for the possibility that his hitting her was a one-time occurrence
  • allowing for the possibility that the circumstantial evidence tying her to the murder is just that: purely circumstantial
  • allowing for the possibility that he really didn’t know the gun was loaded
  • that he really, truly, honestly didn’t know that the “gift” constituted a bribe

Pick one of these—or any of the myriad other benefit-of-a-doubt-eliciting situations that would give a character one more chance to “slip out the back, Jack”—and you’ll find yourself tumbling into a veritable rat’s-nest of plot development.

You see, giving the wrong character the benefit of a doubt can ratchet up your story to such a level that your beneficent protagonist will be forced take a stand. On the other hand, if it’s your flawed protagonist who has been handed one benefit-of-a-doubt too many—received yet another several-thousand-dollar loan from her parents; gotten a pass from his boss when yet another co-worker has filed a complaint about his sexist remarks; had the accusation about yet another nasty incident at the dog park waived—then it’s clear her story is going to back her into a stakes-filled corner and keep her there until she cries “uncle!” and makes a change.

What is simply unacceptable behavior in real life can prove invaluable in turning up the heat in your fictional world. So, go ahead. Give that questionable character the benefit of a doubt and let the good (story-telling) times roll.

Novel Writing coach

Want to know how to write a novel? 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 Llewellyn Worldwide for kind permission to use the image of the Seven of Swords from the ANNA.K TAROT.

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