Inspiration

Be Writers of Action

(We were short inspirational posts this round, and I’m slammed at work, so I’m leaving you with more inspirational quotes. ~Kait)

I don’t mean that you should necessarily write action adventure stories.  I mean that you should take action.  Don’t be ruled by fear.  Use ROW80 and our community here to take steps toward those dreams, every day, no matter how small.

Motivation

We are short an inspirational post this round–not sure if gremlins ate it, if I miscounted the number of sponsor I had, or if I dropped a ball somewhere (given all the traveling I’m doing for the evil day job, that’s totally possible), so I’m leaving you with some brief words of wisdom from Henry Ford.  Keep writing, y’all.

whether-you-think-you-can-or-think-you-cant-youre-right

Taking Inspiration from the Beginning: How to Move Past a Stalled Draft by Beth Camp

Thank you, Beth, for pinch hitting this round!

StartWhereYouAre

Photo of Bay View, Lake Pond Oreille, Idaho (Camp 2015).

 

Back when I taught a class or two of literature, I read somewhere that a truly great writer sets the theme of the whole story in the very first paragraph. My students didn’t believe me. So we tried analyzing a few opening paragraphs. There to our surprise, the writers had laid out the theme, subtly, of course, but in a few phrases, the basic conflict, mood, and genre of the story was implied.

Since then, I’ve discovered setting this not-quite-hook applies to even my own ugliest of drafts.

So why am I thinking about theme, conflict, character arc, and that opening hook today? Because my current novel — 90,000 words on paper — languishes. The appropriate ending escapes me. So I’m deep in revision, as Adrienne Rich said so poignantly, “Re-vision-the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction . . . .”

Where did I go wrong? I used those 3×5 cards to front-end engineer the overall structure, wrote character studies for all main characters, had a blast writing the chapters, letting the words flow more or less in line with those plotting cards, and revised to my heart’s content so that each scene would sing true to the story.

But, somehow caught up in chronicling what happened next, I lost sight of my characters’ motivations, their hopes and dreams, their flaws.

The last chapters found my two main characters facing each other across an abyss of irreconcilable differences at a time (mid-19th Century), when friendly divorce was unheard of. I hoped for a happy resolution. Alas, not even a great heart would forgive a man for taking another wife and fathering children, all of whom yet lived. And I didn’t want to maim the male character as a cosmic excuse for seeking comfort, or kill him off to create a wound my female character would necessarily need to heal.

So setting aside the drama, I’ve begun re-vision. Surprisingly, my process has led right back to the beginning, that opening chapter, that opening scene, those first few words that paint the essential conflict between my two main characters. I offer my process here in the hopes you may find it useful.

Draft a theme and blurb – without looking at your stalled draft. Name the key characters and the key conflict that underpins the whole story.

Rewrite the synopsis of each chapter as it is – so the whole story as it unfolds is absolutely clear and on ‘paper’.

Read through the chapter synopsis once to get a sense of the ‘big picture.’ Underline main characters and key conflicts so you can see where they appear, what they’re doing (and maybe why). Think again about their relationships, inner motivations, and flaws. Note: I was surprised to “see” that the main conflicts between my main characters didn’t emerge right away at all. Yet all through the drafting stage, I had thought these conflicts were obvious.

Make notes (pencil, pen, or virtual CAPS on that word-processed page) for anything that’s missing or seems a bit off. Add a brief description of what needs to be in this section, this chapter, this scene.

Write a synopsis of each section. Analyze how all fits together to support that theme you drafted at the beginning. OK, revise the theme if it no longer fits the story (or plan to revise the story so it supports the theme).

Ruthlessly chop away any chapter or scene that doesn’t belong. Note: I’m a chicken at this stage. I have a separate file named “scenes not used” that’s organized by chapter. In reality, I’ve never used any scene once moved to this file, but it serves as a kind of safety net, reassuring me that my work is not lost.

Write those new scenes. Refine the opening once again. Edit, edit, edit!

 

Once you are satisfied the opening, the story overall, and the ending are all cohesive, and the writing at this stage is the best you can create, send the whole draft out to your beta readers and look forward to another revision or two or three. Then, celebrate the ending of this story with another beginning – your next book.

Following this process (steps 1-5) has taken me about three weeks. I’m feeling better about my characters, the story I want to tell, and how it all fits together. Would it have been easier to have planned the story ahead of time? I still wonder. Since I’m currently writing historical fiction, the facts of a particular time shape the story. Maybe next time, though, I’ll write more productively. Or, maybe this is just how I work, slowly, very slowly.

Maybe you’ve never experienced a draft that simply stalled – rather like the sun not rising in the east or the snow geese not returning at winter. But just maybe my comments will help you to move past plot holes with aplomb.  That’s my hope.

A final note: I do subscribe to a few of those inspiring writerly newsletters (see links below for a few of my favorites). This week, Roz Morris suggested that our characters – at the very beginning of the story – need to appear “off balance.” Her post “How to add jeopardy to your story BEFORE the main conflict starts” says that by beginning with a sense of unease or instability, readers connect more intensely with our characters and identify with their conflicts. Her article gave me another layer to add to writing about my characters and helped me understand that elusive deep point of view.

Meanwhile, we each tell our stories from the heart, revising and learning the craft of writing as we persevere. May your writing go well!

A few blogs to check out:

 ~*~

Beth Camp

 

Own Who You Are By Elizabeth Mitchell

I grew up in the bad old days when properly brought up ladies did not boast. How that plays out in real life is one diminishes one’s accomplishments, but also turns away compliments. So when I hear, “Nice writing,” I reply with, “It’s nothing special.” It’s the writer’s equivalent of responding “This old thing?” to a compliment about a dress. August McLaughlin said some very nice words about a review I wrote of her Girl Boner podcasts.  My instinctive reaction came immediately to the fore, and I deflected her praise. Finally I realized it was impolite to reject her kind words, so I managed to say thank you.

 

Most of my family knows nothing about my writing, partly because it would be boasting to do anything to call attention to myself, or to talk about my accomplishments. I spent a lot of time conflicted about my writing, but I scribbled in notebooks in solitude and put them in drawers away from sight. It remained a secret conflict for decades.

 

I was at my brother’s wake when my secret came into the open. As I reacquainted myself with my nephew’s mother-in-law, she said, “Oh, you’re the writer.” I wanted to fall through the floor, or insist, “Not me,” but part of me refused to deny it. I don’t know to this day how my brother knew my secret. For a second, I was angry at him for telling his friends about me, but I quickly realized he must have been proud of my baby steps toward being a writer. Instead of denying it, I stood up a little straighter, and said, “Yes, I’m the writer.”

 

Exposing ourselves as writers swirls many feelings into conflict. Many of us are introverts, and uncomfortable with exposure. Publishing makes us vulnerable to the bad review, but the good review has its own danger, where one feels the pressure to keep writing more good books as the audience begins to expect them. And even if one writes well, one has to write fast, before the audience moves on to another author.

 

Even before we have published a work, we twist ourselves in knots over the pressure to succeed by building and keeping an audience. Another lesson from my childhood was I had to hide how smart I was, since I didn’t have beauty to cover for my brains. Since my inner nerd rampages through my writing, I worry that my posts and my fiction are too boring.

 

Also, writing carries its own vulnerability, because one has to look deep into oneself, to contemplate the wounds and scars within.  I realized I was not alone in this struggle when Shan’s post appeared, writing about the exact podcast on which I based my review of August’s podcasts, and talking about how hard it was for her to be vulnerable.  I opened my blog reader this morning to find that Shan has written a followup post where she describes how the comments and social media reaction to her earlier post are encouraging her to continue her baby steps to self-revelation.

 

With all the support I’ve gotten in the past from the RoW80 group and other writers, I’m slowly coming out of my cave. I am now saying to myself, “Own who you are.  Tell the people who matter to you that you are a writer.” It’s scary after so many years of hiding, but I believe it is a necessary step to writing with more authenticity and embracing the vulnerability that accompanies writing. I encourage all the RoWers to assess when one is hiding for whatever reason, and to make a small step to come out to the lip of the cave with me.

~*~

Elizabeth Mitchell

#ROW80: Advice From My Years of Teaching by Bev Baird

Stepping away from writing and blogging for several weeks was necessary, but for weeks before that I was out of sync with my goals. I was letting the gremlins in my mind dictate what and when I wrote.

As my situation improve and I contemplated a return to more regular routines of writing and blogging, I thought back to my years as an elementary teacher. I loved teaching and even today, I still miss being in the classroom, working with young children.

I realized as well that there were many lessons I could learn from my teaching of writing in the classroom. Children who wrote daily had little fear of words or spelling or technique. They just wrote and seemed to be inspired by the world around them. I need to follow their lead.

Here are some of the lessons I need to embrace:

  1. Writer’s Notebook

At the beginning of the school year, I gave each child a composition book to use to record thoughts, feelings and learnings. Each of us decorated the covers to make the books unique and then we used these daily.

I need to have my own notebook and get back to recording my ideas, thoughts, feelings and learnings about writing in one central spot and use it daily.

 

  1. Mentor Texts

I always began a writing lesson with a mentor text which lead into discussions of theme, techniques, and special words.

I need to continue reading books and discover my own mentor texts.

 

  1. Practice

We had daily practice of techniques and forms, both together as a group, in pairs and individually. We always had great fun writing poems together which we did often.

I need to continue to practice my craft regularly, with reading and courses, and of course writing.

  1. Just write

Every day we wrote for 15 – 30 minutes, usually free writing although sometimes there were set prompts. There were always prompts available if needed, whether word prompts or phots to inspire.

I need to get back to morning papers – to just write 3 – 5 pages each morning to silence the gremlins.

 

  1. Sharing

The children were able to talk with their peers and with me about their writing, seeking inspiration or help as needed.

I need to turn to my critique partners and writing group when I am stuck or just for inspiration.

 

  1. Celebrations

At the end of each week, we always celebrated published works – those pieces that had been edited, revised and published. The authors sat in a special chair and read their work, to much applause.

I too need to celebrate when I have finished a piece. And then I need to submit it.

 

Writing can be a lonely task, but it is rewarding. I need to remember the lessons learned and get back to writing full tilt again.

 ~*~

Bev Baird

Fear of the Page by Lauralynn Elliott

One of the things that has always hindered my writing is page fright. What is page fright? It’s this irrational fear when you sit down to start writing on whatever you’ve been working on. In fact, the fear might cause you not to even sit down at your chair. Sometimes, there’s a sense of dread when you even think about writing.

 

So, what causes page fright? I’m not sure I know exactly, but I have some ideas. We have to first understand WHY we fear before we can overcome the fear. Here are some things I’ve come up with.

 

  • You don’t think you have enough words in the story to make a full novel. Solution: This is one of my biggest fears. I’ve overcome this fear by deciding I don’t care how long a story is going to be. It’s going to be as long as it wants to be. I love writing novellas. Writing was so much more fun when I didn’t worry about length. Then someone told me novellas didn’t sell well, and I needed to write novels. I’ve struggled with page fright over every novel I’ve written. Now I say that’s a bunch of baloney (in the South, we don’t say “bologna”). These days, readers like to have different lengths to choose from, and novellas are great reads for busy people.

 

  • THAT author writes 3,000 words in one sitting. You can only write 500, so you must not be a very good or productive writer. Solution: Stop worrying about what others are doing. Everyone works at his/her own pace. There are so many factors involved in how many words you can write. You may have more obligations than another author. Your hands might give out sooner than someone else’s. You might simply like to think things out longer. Whatever the reason you write more slowly than you THINK you should, it’s YOUR reason, and it’s legitimate (unless you are playing on Facebook between paragraphs).

 

  • You might get writer’s block. Solution: Sit down at the computer and write SOMETHING. If you’re a plotter, you already have some idea of where to go. If you’re a pantser (don’t tell Kait, or she’ll get an eye twitch), just let the ideas flow. You can fix any problems later. You have to start somewhere.

 

  • You’re afraid you’ll work your butt off and put your whole soul into this story, and no one will buy it. Solution: Suck it up (oh, no, I just sounded like Chuck Wendig there, sorry). We all face this possibility. With the huge saturation of the market with self-published books, it’s very hard to be found. Your job is to write the best book you can write. Not the best book someone else can write, but the best book YOU can write. If you let fear stop you, then you’ll never know what you could have accomplished. I believe the best way to be found is to put as many books as you can out there. If you give up after one book because it didn’t sell like you thought it should, you might miss out on success. This isn’t an instant thing, especially these days. You have to be in this for the long haul. Have a five or ten year plan, not a plan to quit if your first book doesn’t do well.

 

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Or do you have other reasons to fear the page? If you DON’T have page fright, let us know how you DO feel when you sit down to write. I would love to hear your comments.

~*~

Lauralynn Elliott

Climbing Back In The Saddle by Eden Mabee

I’m not sure how it happened.  I fell off and…  damn, but it’s hard to climb back in the saddle and get those words written.  The horse keeps moving, you know.  The publishing world, the writing world, the social world…  it all kept moving, and here I was, stuck on the ground, stunned a bit, afraid to jump back in because I’d made a mistake and fell off.  I had stopped writing.

There were many reasons—we all have reasons for not writing.  For me, Life got busier than busy.  I had run out of ideas, and my characters weren’t talking to me.  All I could think of were lesson plans and schedules, and assignments and homework and getting my information into the State database so I could continue to work with kids and…  Well, you name it; I saw it as an excuse to take a break from writing regularly.  And once I stopped writing regularly…  I stopped writing.

I didn’t think it would hurt to take some time off.  Yeah, I felt estranged from fictional people that I once knew better than my own blood kin.  Yeah, I began to sleep badly as the once familiar catharsis and escape I had once relied on seemed to be gone.  But I was B.U.S.Y.  I had “important” things to do, children to care for, homework to finish for teachers, paperwork to do for the government, etc.  Writing was just a hobby for me, not my career…  it should have been set aside.

Or should it?

I don’t exaggerate when I say I was out of touch and more than a bit emotionally disconnected without having that regular contact with my characters.  After investing so much time on their lives and on the world I’d created, it was as if I had been torn from my family and home and forced to function in an alien environment.  Instead of moving day in and day out with the comfort and reassurance of knowing I had all these “people” there alongside me as I moved into what was a very new world  of becoming a teacher, I felt alone and uncertain.

And I’m not exaggerating the difficulty I have had sleeping since I stopped writing regularly.  The odd day I managed to write (I squeaked through NaNoWriMo by doing scattered days of crazy huge wordcounts followed by days of not being able to settle long  enough to write  ten words) , I woke up the next day feeling more creative and inspired.  Losing writing time was akin to not exercising day after day; I felt weak and unfit for most mental activities.

“That’s okay,” you might say.  “We’ve all stopped writing once or twice when Life took over.”  But I can’t be the only one who has noticed how much harder it is to start back up again than to keep going.  The one-day break… that’s not too bad; we call it a day of rest, a Sabbath as it were.  The week off… that’s a vacation.  But the months off… those are something else.  Usually when someone leaves a thing for so long, it is because they’ve chosen a different path in life, or that Life has chosen for them.

Enough is enough.  I am a writer, not a victim.  I can climb back up in that saddle and write, and I am inviting you to join me.  Let’s see where our writing takes us.

~*~

Eden Mabee