Posts Tagged ‘writing advice’

Writing Sprints and SFDs: Your Keys to the Kingdom

WRITING SPRINTS AND SFDS

by Tia Levings

I’LL NEVER FORGET WHERE I was the day I learned about shitty first drafts (SFDs). The phrase alone got my attention, so bold and borderline-crass in a sea of serious approaches to “craft.” I bought BIRD BY BIRD because I was familiar with Anne Lamott’s blue-jeans-and-bare-feet spirituality. She’s forgiving, likes dogs, and knows how to tame wild anxiety. To me, she is St. Anne, patron saint of nervous writers trying to find their way.

Writing sprints and SFDs changed my writing life completely. 

I’d recently decided to write my first novel, based on an idea I got from a travel ad. My two main characters came in loud and clear––travel writers who wanted to kill each other. The problem was, they were married (to each other) and had just accepted a job contract contingent on their union. 

I had a premise, characters, a fun working title…and minimal plot. Looking back, I’m not sure I even knew what the word “plot” meant yet. I wanted to write a novel and had no idea how to do it. 

So I took BIRD BY BIRD on audio out for a walk. I left my front porch and our cul-de-sac and crossed the street to get on the sidewalk. One square, two square..  “step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back,” came to mind. I was on the seventh square of the sidewalk when I heard Anne’s voice describe what she called “shitty first drafts.” Zing! Electricity. 

The SFD reminded me of Natalie Goldberg’s WRITING DOWN THE BONES––the skeletal frame. Anne called it “writing without reining yourself in.” She said it’s almost like “just typing.” You can’t overthink, which is hard for anxious writers who want to get it right. But there’s no pausing for corrections in the SFD. The sentences run on. The ideas flow and wander. You’re writing down the bones of your story, and the pretty fleshy bits come later. 

An SFD is more than writing badly on purpose. It’s a flow.

If you’ve used free-writing and morning pages as techniques to become unblocked, you’re working the right muscles for a shitty first draft. These uncensored lines flow through you, mind to hand. The difference between an SFD and my morning pages is intention; I have an idea with story elements I’m working with on a draft. Otherwise, the sensation while writing is very much the same. 

If your shitty first draft is rambling, incoherent, and too-ugly-to-show-anyone, you’re doing it right. You never show anyone your SFD. Showing it off is not the point. You’re just getting the words down on paper—messy, uncramped words out of your head and onto the page. You can edit and revise later, but only if you put the words down first. 

“You can’t edit a blank page.” ––Jodie Picoult

I’m no longer a new writer. And in my experience, a gate with two locks guards the pathway to a solid working draft and the Kingdom of Completed Projects. The SFD is one key to the kingdom; the other is writing sprints

Writing sprints are timed shitty first drafts. You assign yourself a duration, set the timer, and go, much like a free-writing session. When I sprint, I go for fifty minutes, break for ten, and usually do another, sometimes changing projects. The rinse in between is long enough to grab a snack, get some fresh air, and then dive back in with my concentration renewed. 

The urgency of the clock is just enough pressure to keep my fingers flying. I’m not stopping to edit and rearrange sentences because I want that word count target. My eye is on the prize. 

I write in Scrivener, which allows me to set word count targets against a calendar date. Scrivener tells me how many words I have to write per day to hit both the word count goal and deadline. The alchemy of target, timer, and deadline is the method I use for all of my work now. 

Writing sprints are also excellent keys to unlock creative blocks. Choose a writing prompt––Jamie’s tarot prompts work great for this––and set a timer for 15-30 minutes. Just write whatever comes to mind, even if that’s “I don’t know what to write about this.” Sometimes I even type with my eyes closed. It always leads to a discovery. Most importantly, it creates movement, and when I’m done, I’m no longer blocked. 

Vocal writing sprints: try talking it out

A few of my author-friends are experimenting with speech-to-text software for their SFDs. Using microphones and dictating their first drafts, they get the words down quickly, well enough to revise and edit in a second sprint. In his book 5,000 WORDS PER HOUR, Chris Fox breaks down his method to increase word count efficiently. It’s working for genre writers I follow online, and if speed an issue for you, dictation might help you battle it out.  

SFDs and writing sprints help me overcome creative paralysis and perfectionism. The point, which is a draft that can be cleaned, edited, and improved, makes sound metaphorical and practical sense to me. I still turn to BIRD BY BIRD when I get stuck. St. Anne suggests short assignments, one-inch squares, and making messes. We’ve got to break these enormous tasks into bites we can handle, as the title suggests. “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” 

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Writing coach

Tia Levings hired me as her writing coach in 2017. Since then, she completed her memoir, co-authored a book on the craft of writing, and started a podcast for writers. I’m delighted to have Tia as a colleague, co-writer, and client. And I’m so glad that she’s sharing some of her writing experience with us, here. Thanks, Tia! 

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

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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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.

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

Aspiring Cozy Mystery Writer Shares Her Journey

BONNIE CEHOVET IS A MUCH-PUBLISHED NONFICTION AUTHOR who is also an aspiring cozy mystery writer. I’m a cozy mystery fan myself—and a fan of Bonnie’s other work!—so I asked her to share some of her thoughts about finding her way in this genre, (You’ll find Bonnie’s bio and a list of her books and other publications below the interview.)

What do you think makes a cozy mystery a cozy?
My personal shortlist of what makes a cozy mystery a cozy, as distinct from other mysteries, is this: no foul language, no explicit sex, and no violence. The one word that describes this genre for me is “gentle.” Cozy mysteries are gentle mysteries. They have great story lines, well-developed characters, and a dash of humor. The main character of a cozy is an amateur at solving mysteries. She generally lives in a small community, or a small community within a large city.

What do you like about reading cozies?
They make me feel good. I can identify with the characters; I understand the difficulties they are facing. I laugh and cry with them. They transport me into another world for the time I am reading them. I can see the streets where they live and work in my mind’s eye as if I were there. In the series that I follow, I may be reading little tidbits about coffee, or baking, or miniature work—and, if I’m lucky, the author will include recipes! I also love trying to figure out who did what to whom before the author closes the story.

Examples of cozy mystery series that I love are The Hannah Swensen series, by Joanne Fluke; The Cat Who series, by Lilian Jackson Braun; The Tea Shop Mysteries series, by Laura Childs; and The Father Brown mystery series, by G. K. Chesterton.

What made you want to write cozies?
It was a natural selection to want to write cozies, because that is what I prefer to read (although I do like legal mysteries, along the line of Haughton Murphys work). I also prefer my life to go at a gentler pace than it has perhaps in the past, and I want my writing to reflect that. I can bring in things like the tarot, meditation, astrology and crystals to augment the story, without the story having to be about them.

What’s most challenging for you about writing in this genre?
While I do not find writing in the cozy mystery genre challenging at all, I definitely want to channel a bit of Sherlock Holmes in my writing! However, while I am looking to write a series of cozy mysteries with a female protagonist, when I started the first story, it immediately became evident that it was not going to be a cozy! It falls more into the paranormal category, with references to mind-reading and long-distance viewing. It will be a three-book mystery series. But once I’ve completed the series, I’ll let the cozies flow!

What’s most rewarding about writing in this genre?
What is rewarding to me about writing in the cozy mystery genre is that I can be kind to all of my characters. There will be tension, of course, but no one has to be mean to anyone else. I can present everyday life in, hopefully, an interesting fashion—a fashion that will keep my readers coming back for more!

What software do you use when you’re writing for publication?
Every book I have authored or co-authored has been done in Microsoft Word. No other software was used. It was what I knew, And, yes, it was time consuming.

I am now using Grammerly, and find it a great help, as it corrects as I write. Yes, there are some days that I want to strangle it! But, overall, it polishes what I write and sees mistakes that I do not see.

I have Dragon, which is speech recognition software. I’ve used it off and on, but have found it hard to get used to. I keep the program because I have arthritis, and I know there will come a day when typing may become too much for my hands.

Right now, I am working with Scrivener, and feel this is the ultimate software for any writer to keep their work in good form and change things at will.

What tips would you offer my readers who might be interested in writing cozies?
For my mysteries, I start out by defining my protagonist and gathering some idea of what the story is going to be about. I have a writer’s bible for each of my books, where I keep lists of characters, their backgrounds, and their traits, along with the plot for each story, and its timeline.

My number one tip for all writers is to just start writing! Let it flow. You can always go back and edit. Each of us has something interesting to say—we just need to let it out. Allow the story to flow and allow each character to write their own story. Believe me, they will! If you feel stuck, walk away and do something else for a day or two, then go back. Most times I can edit a story to make it work. If I can’t make it work, I start over again.

I also have a blog where I write flash fiction—little 100-word stories. For me, writing flash fiction clears my head, and allows me to get back to my WIP with a fresh perspective.

For more tips specific to the cozy genre, check out these articles:
5 Tips for How to Write a Cozy Mystery
The Mystery of Mysteries: 16 Steps to Writing the Cozy Mystery
Formula for Writing a Cozy Mystery, Part 1: A Good “Hook”

Do you have any other suggestions for writers?
Something we have to remember as writers is that we need to keep our name out there, and we need to network. I found that, for myself, writing reviews helped me to keep my name out there and helped me meet other writers in the tarot field [the field in which Bonnie is best published], as well as connect with individuals in the deck and publishing industries.

I came across the Aeclectic Tarot site early on in my review writing career and found it to be very beneficial. The site owner, Kate (Solandia), is a lovely lady with integrity and a knack for putting an excellent site together. I was blessed to meet her in person at one of the early Reader’s Studio conferences hosted by Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone. The site is still up, although no longer accepting reviews.

My suggestion would be to read what interests you, and review that. Place your reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, on your own site or blog, or anywhere you feel they will be seen.

What writing resources would you recommend?

Blogs:
Ladies of Mystery
Nathan Bransford
The Creative Penn
Writer’s Digest

Mystery Writer’s Organizations:
Author’s Guild
Mystery Writer’s of America
Sisters In Crime

BIO
Bonnie Cehovet is a professional tarot reader, author, reviewer, and Reiki master. She segued from working for 27 years as a medical technologist to becoming a professional tarot reader, which she has been doing for over 24 years. It was a case of an avocation becoming a vocation. Over the years, she has also added writing to her repertoire, mainly focusing on tarot and self-help, in the form of articles, books, and reviews (most of which have been placed with Aeclectic Tarot, Amazon, and Goodreads).

She currently lives in the state of Nevada with her two cats, Midnight and Pumpkin. Her focus right now is on publishing in the cozy mystery genre. She writes a flash fiction blog and an author’s blog.

Authored by Bonnie Cehovet:
TAROT IN REVIEW (Lulu 2008)
THE WORLD OF TAROT: As Seen Through the Eyes of the Interview (Create Space 2010)
TAROT, BIRTH CARDS, AND YOU: Keys to Empowering Yourself (Schiffer 2011; Karyn Easton, Artist)
TAROT, RITUALS & YOU: The Power of Tarot Combined with the Power of Ritual (Schiffer 2013)
SURVIVING THE HOLIDAYS: Taking Charge Of Your Life (Kindle/Create Space 2014)

Co-authored with Brad Tesh:
SEEK JOY … TOSS CONFETTI (Kindle/Create Space 2013)
INVISIBLE ME: Journeying Through The Soul (Kindle/Create Space 2019)

Articles:
LLEWELLYN TAROT READER: 2004, 2005
THE CARTOMANCER: Spring, Summer, Fall 2015, Spring, Summer, Fall 2016, Spring, Summer 2017, Spring, Fall 2018,

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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Image “getting-published Atlanta GA” by agilemktg1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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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10 Top Writing Coaching Tips and Resources for Teen and Preteen Writers

DO YOU WANT TO ENCOURAGE A YOUNG WRITER? A kid you know may have a clever way with words or be an off-again/on-again journal keeper. They may write song lyrics or poetry or put on shows with their friends. Kids that gravitate to these kinds of activities might bloom into full-fledged writers with some support. Or they might just noodle with writing—among many other creative activities—for a year or two and then move on.

Either way, developing the art of putting words on the page is likely to benefit them throughout their academic and professional careers! Here’s a backpack-full of great ideas and resources to get them started:

1) Comic books count! Do you know there’s a huge comic-book culture out there? I bet your teen writer does! Whether a younger writer wants to team up with an artist pal or pen both drawings and text themselves, comic books could be a great way for them to tell stories. Check out Little Scribe’s article “Comic Books: A Powerful Study Tool for Teens.” 

If your teen is more ambitious, they might want to dive into writing a graphic novel. Like comic books, graphic novels rely on images to tell half the story. However, graphic novels typically tell longer, more fully developed narratives than comic books. Penguin Books has a helpful graphic-novel guide titled “You Can Do a Graphic Novel.”

2) Writing fan fiction can help a young writer get their novel-writing feet wet! Fan fiction writers enter already-created fictional worlds—that of Harry Potter and crew, for example—and write their own stories based on the characters and settings in those worlds, then share their work online, building community with other fan-fic writers.

A surprising number of professional novelists got their start as fan-fic writers. Read more about this phenom in THE NEW YORKER article “The Promise and Potential of Fan Fiction.”  HuffPost article “Fanfiction: A Guide for Parents” offers a different perspective on this teen-centric writing form.

3) Virtual or actual diary- or journal-keeping gives a kid a place to dream on the page, to hear themselves think in that slightly different way that writing just for oneself produces. And the self-trust journaling builds will serve as a foundation for all their other writing opportunities, as well.

You might want to gift a teen with a physical diary or a beautifully bound journal. Or you could recommend they try an online journal platform. Penzu is just one example. On their site, they say, Whether you’re looking for a tool to record your daily emotions and activities in a reflective journal, keep track of milestones in a food diary, or even record your dreams in a dream journal, Penzu has you covered.

4) Many magazines invite young writers to submit their work. STONE SOUP is a literary magazine and website written and illustrated by kids through age thirteen. EMBER is a journal whose submission guidelines are open to authors and poets age ten and up. Print magazine TEEN INK says, Whether you’re interested in poetry, sports, movie reviews, or fiction, send us your work and let your voice be heard! And then there’s ONE TEEN STORY, an award-winning quarterly literary magazine that features the work of today’s best teen writers.

5) Did you know that NaNoWriMo has a young writers’ program? Yup! Through that program, National Novel Writing Month offers younger folks the chance to dig deep and produce a full draft of a new novel in a single month! As they say, our Young Writers Program (YWP) supports under-eighteen writers and K-12 educators as they participate in our flagship event each November, and take part in smaller writing challenges year-round.

YWP invites participants to set their word-count goal and draft their novel right on the site. The program also offers support from published authors. Sound good? You might want to buddy up with a teen writer this November. You can root for one another as you complete your daily word counts and push toward THE END!

6) Websites for kid writers abound with inspiration and creative fuel! For instance,  UNDERLINED  presents writing prompts, authorial advice, and literary community—all geared toward the young writer. Wattpad goes a step further. Here, according to BRIGHTLY, teens can find and follow favorite authors and release their own works as serial novels. This platform also helps young writers find an audience among its 25 million+ members! 

BRIGHTLY also recommends Tumblr, pointing out that this blogging platform … doubles as a go-to for young literary enthusiasts, bookworms, and those in need of some writing motivation. Some to check out: The Writer’s Helpers (for advice on everything from grammar to plot); Writing Prompts; and John Green’s Tumblr (the Tumblr account of YA author John Green, which is just fun and inspiring).

7) It’s exciting to discover books that inspire young writers. I’ve listed three.

WRITE YOURSELF A LANTERN: Featuring lines from Elizabeth Acevedo’s THE POET X among its pages, this full-color, beautifully designed journal is perfect for readers, long-time writers, those trying their hand at poetry, or anyone with a voice all their own.

JUST WRITE: Here’s How!, by Walter Dean Myers, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, includes an afterword by Ross Workman, Walter’s teen coauthor of KICK, and covers Walter’s six-box and four-box outlines; excerpted pages from his own notebooks; and writing tips from both Walter and Ross.

THE FRUIT BOWL PROJECT, by Sarah Durkee, describes a fictional, yet still inspiring situation: The kids in 8th Grade Writer’s Workshop are awestruck when rock superstar Nick Thompson comes to talk about writing. Nick, known for his lyrics, tells the kids his secret: A song is just a bowl of fruit—one must figure out how to paint it. Nick gives the kids two weeks to tell an interesting story, reflecting his or her style. And so the Fruit Bowl Project begins. Rap, poetry, monologue, screenplay, haiku, fairy tale—and more.

8) Some YouTube videos offer advice-filled snippets specifically for young writers. 

11 Writers: Advice for Young Writers (features Patti Smith, Jonathan Franzen, and Umberto Eco!)

Shaelin Writes: Advice for Teen Writers: What I Wish I’d Known

Margaret Atwood’s Top 5 Writing Tips: In this National Centre for Writing video, Atwood is interviewed by two teen writers.

How to Become an Author and a Good Writer, by J.K. Rowling.

16 Tips for Young Writers, by Hannah Lee Kidder, Writer and Other Stuff

9) Programs for kid writers offer community and support. From summer writing camps to online workshops, there are many options to help a young writer take their craft to the next level. A few of these include Writopia Labs: based in NYC, a team of published authors, produced playwrights, and passionate administrators champion Writopia’s unique approach to creative youth development. Education Unlimited’s Writing Summer Camps for High School Students offers the Emerging Writers Institute, a two-week creative writing camp program to develop students’ imaginative writing across genres. Brave Writer emphasizes the support a home-schooling parent can give a young writer—but many tips and resources are applicable to any young person trying to move their writing skills ahead. 

10) I’ll end with a single entry from writing guru Jane Friedman, publisher of THE HOT SHEET, a newsletter on the publishing industry, columnist for PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, professor with The Great Courses (which released her 24-lecture series, HOW TO PUBLISH YOUR BOOK), and author of THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER.

Jane knows her stuff. Here’s a little bit of it for kid writers: Writing Advice for Children and Teens, in which she offers pithy advice and invites writers John Green, Ira Glass, and Ta-Nehisi Coates to weight in, too. Together, these fine writers share some simple but deep truths—exactly the sort of truths we need to guide us as writers, whether we’re young … or not so young anymore.

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.

* * *

Photo by Brecht Bug, used via Creative Commons license.

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Top Writing Coaching Tip #2: When You Wonder If Writing Your Memoir Is Worthwhile

DO YOU WANT TO WRITE A MEMOIR? If so, do you wonder if your story will have value for readers outside your immediate circle? Yes? Well, you’re not alone.

Often, I talk with folks whose experiences have been meaningful enough to them that they want to share what they’ve been through. They feel that, if published, their life story could benefit others—in part, by demonstrating to future readers that at least one person has survived the circumstances about which they want to write and also by offering others the wisdom they’ve gleaned in the process. These potential memoirists may have been subject to abuse or have hit a deep bottom after self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Perhaps they’ve had a serious illness or gone through the devastating loss of a child or spouse.

Whatever their story, having undergone a life-changing trial, they’re ready to share their experience of strength and hope. But faced with the long haul of writing a memoir, they may wonder: Will others really find what I have to say worth reading? (Then there’s the not-insignificant task of on-boarding excellent narrative writing skills!)

With all that in mind, I wrote a note—both in recognition of those who have shared their memoir-writing dreams with me and with the hope that, if I send it out on the ethers, it might reach the heart of someone hesitating at the brink of writing their story.

Dear Memoir-Writer-to-Be,

I understand you’re concerned that your story might not hold meaning for anyone else—that it might not be a valuable contribution to literature or society. But I want to assure you, if you can dig deep and excavate the shining core of your experience and convey it in a compelling way, readers will connect with what you have to say.

Of course, much skill and craft goes into writing a compelling memoir—but with patience and diligence, those can be learned. If you are really committed to the task, that commitment will be the reliable spark that will fuel the work of learning what you must to deliver the story you want to share.

Work hard. Find techniques that will make your story strong, that will convey the deepest meaning of it, that will showcase its worth, that will help you develop its shape and create of it a presence that will make its inherent value evident to your readers.

Tall order? Sure. But having lived through something so life-changing you believe you can impact others by sharing it, I bet you can tackle this, too.

Wishing you every inspiration and a basketful of determination,

Jamie

 

Memoir-writing inspiration

There are wonderful resources available to support you in writing your memoir. Among them, I recommend THE ART OF MEMOIR, by Mary Karr, and MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES, by Ryan G. Van Cleave.

If you’re looking for more suggestions, Meghan McCullough wrote an article for The Perch (the Penguin Random House blog), titled “The 9 Best Books on Writing Memoir.”

And for a shorter read, you might like my post, “Telling the Truth: A Memoir Writing Prompt.”

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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A Writer’s First Year: How a Writing Coach Helped a Shadow Writer Step into the Light

FROM OUR FIRST CONVERSATION, I knew Mona was a writer … although that notion was in complete contradiction to the fact that she didn’t write! Still. There was something about her that just felt like a writer—and as someone who spends most of my waking hours talking with writers, I was pretty confident in my assessment.

Julia Cameron talks about shadow artists. These are folks who long to have a more creative life, but instead live in the shadow of other creatives. Perhaps they manage a gallery instead of painting themselves, or, in the case of writers, read voraciously, but rarely put pen to paper. Before this past year, Mona may have been living in the writing shadows, but not anymore. Since we met, she’s taken many steps into the light. I’m grateful to her for sharing both a bit about her journey here and a beautiful piece of personal writing that shows her writer’s soul!

A Writer’s First Year
—Mona Newton

My writing year started when a friend invited me to join a blog group in early January. Participants received daily prompts from the organizer, wrote posts, and shared them with the group. Thinking I could learn from others and maybe connect with fellow wannabes, I jumped in, although I felt really insecure about my writing.

I am a rule follower, so I wrote to the suggested topic each day, though no one else seemed to. In fact, only a very few of the twenty or so other participants wrote at all. After a few weeks of limping along, trying my darnedest to get into the flow, I read our leader’s post about her writing coach, Jamie Morris.

Jamie’s enthusiasm gave me a positive vibe—I could do this. I could explore writing in a safe, fun, educational environment with a writing coach! I had asked and the Universe had delivered something better than the blog group.

Then I broke my wrist while skiing. Immediately, my very active life became sedentary. It turned out to be the break (no pun intended) I needed to slow down and explore the short “writing opportunities” Jamie offered me. I wrote about a painting in my living room, about hotel carpet, about my long-dead fish, Beta (see story below). As winter melted into summer, I took walks and wrote about what I’d seen along the way.

And Jamie and I wrote together, too. In those sessions, I noticed how unfamiliar I am with spilling out my ideas. I keep circling authors whose books I’ve read and am in awe at how they are able to write hundreds of pages of really good words, all strung together, while the writing I produce seems still to be so elementary.

I struggle to imbue myself in the pieces I write, and I struggle to find the words. And I still have stretches where I just don’t write. But when I do, sometimes I am actually pleased with what I write—like I am with this piece.

Betta Fish

My friend Marcella was giving betta fish as party favors at her daughter’s high school graduation party. I decided to take one with me to my apartment, 350 miles away. Like my cousin Danette, my nephew Chris, and my niece Sonia, I took a bright red one. To make the fish’s trip as comfortable as possible, I carefully packed his bowl in a box with a towel around it. The temperature was in the 90s. Fortunately, my car had excellent air conditioning.

I’d never owned a fish before, but the idea of a pet in my little apartment put a smile on face. I named him Beta. Bettas are fighters; they don’t do well with other fish in their tank. Even when people stooped to talk to him at eye level, he’d do his aggressive dance, coming up to the side of his one-gallon tank, puffing out his gills to make his head look bigger, and attacking them, by swimming in reverse, then charging forward, stopping right before he hit the side of the tank.

But Beta was really friendly to me. He would greet me when I talked to him. I was convinced he recognized me! When he was feeling particularly friendly, he’d wave his little fins at me when I looked him in the eye. In the morning when I fed him, I would drop of couple of flakes into the tank; he would swim around one of them and then attack it, munching it down quickly. 

My neighbors Peg and Mike took care of Beta when I’d leave town for more than a couple of days. After watching him for over a year, they would joke when I took him over to their apartment that he was going to camp—Betta Camp. He was pretty entertaining for all of us.

One day, though, after he’d been in my care for three years, he started acting less frisky, looking a little gray below his mouth. After researching on the internet, I concluded he was sick, not dying. The guy at the pet store who sold me the Betta Fix, which was the medicine to cure him, told me a typical betta lifespan was about three years. The internet said two to five years. I was determined to get Beta past three, even to five.

I changed his water frequently, didn’t overfeed him, and of course I talked to him. But he didn’t make it. After a few days of hanging out at the top of his tank on a floating plastic plant, he died. I came home from work to find him standing on his tail leaning against the little Buddha in his tank.

For his final swim, I took him down to the Roaring Fork River and let him go in the current, thanking him for being my companion. Hopefully, in a complete cycle, he was food for another fish, or a bird that spotted his bright red body from high in the sky.

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In December, Mona asked herself, “Am I done with this experiment?” A gut check told her no, she’s not done. There’s more she wants to explore in this coming year. She reported that she’s signed up for two creative writing classes, one with Natalie Goldberg and one at her local college. She’ll  also continue working on a longer piece, about Georgia O’Keefe and  Mabel Dodge Luhan, that she started last year, hoping to find a place for its publication. But whether or not she gets that piece published, Mona told me she’ll keep going, approaching writing with perseverance and gusto, the way she likes to approach the rest of her life (especially skiing!).

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I hope you found Mona’s experience inspiring. Got a dream? Be like Mona! Go for it—even if you take it tortoise-slow and with the tiniest of baby steps. Just give it a year and see how far you’ve come.

Writing coaching

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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