Saturday, January 30, 2016

Novel Craft: Floundering

Hi folks, this is the last in my series of Novel Craft.  This week I'm going to address floundering. For me, there is a time in every project when things sort of stall. It sucks. BIG TIME. I lose  my mojo for a project and find myself ready to move on before it is time to move on.

I had an interesting conversation with my friend and writer Avery White (Check out his sight if you need some fire.)  My WIP is almost done, but not quite. I should be all jazzed but instead I feel wrung out and empty.  I need to pull together the last five chapters. The notes are written. The pages are critiqued. I've said my prayers. And yet, instead of just being on fire right now, I'm searching for excuses. Even my sock drawer is organized at this point.

The way of floundering is always the same for me. I think it is partly self-doubt. When I wrap this up, I will send it out, and if you are a writer, you know that means boatloads of rejection and people writing you notes that say, "This is a really good first draft." Floundering is partly separation anxiety. I have lived in the book world for years. It is tough to move on to a new world. It's time to let go. How am I going to do that?

Here's my RX. Chat with someone on the creative journey. Avery reminded me that everything is done and now it is time to trust. So here I am, letting go of my floundering and instead embracing my little list of things to-do to finish up. I may have to rip this manuscript apart in the future. It may never be read by more than a handful of people. But I have written those words. I have contributed my verse.

All the good people who invested themselves in my life are with me now. All their energy is surrounding me. The good of the universe is lifting me up above the shambles. What a lovely thing.

Hope this resonates.

Next week I'll start a series about creativity. This is conjunction with a talk that I will be offering at Covenant Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 6:15. It's a weekly program they offer called Onederful Wednesday.  I will lead a workshop called Divining Creativity. Here are a few of the things I will dig into -- What is holding you back? What will push you forward? What will make you leap? This should shake down the cobwebs and open all the windows.  Come out if you are interested.  It's free.

P.S. Still cancer-free. Whew!

Here is a doodle.

Finally, here is a quote for your pocket.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
Stephen Crane

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Novel Craft: Feels

Hi folks, I am spending the month of January chatting about Novel Craft. This week I'm digging into feels. Every books needs shivery moments, feels. The journey of mining your character's emotional core is tough. It takes days. It takes deep thought. If you are feeling sick at your stomach and have almost a migraine headache, chances are you are in your character's feel zone or you need to take a Tylenol.

Seriously, this emotional goop is essential to your storytelling. Let it flow through you.

Where do you get the goop? This week I went in for my yearly mammogram and before I reached home, I already had a call back for more tests. Feels came quick. Anger. I wanted to sit in my car and bang my steering wheel. Next up, hopefulness, this may be this is nothing, just a routine, let's-make-the-baseline-better call. Then despair slammed me. I just don't want to have cancer...again.  Cancer sucks. Your hair falls out. You feel so listless. Ah, my thoughts are turning to jello, a globby emotional smog monster. Not my favorite thing. As much as I don't want it, I'm in an emotional maelstrom. As much as I hate having to deal, I know that dealing is what makes me the best person.

In real life, emotions come in weird ripples. They make no sense. They are disorderly and inconsistent. It takes days to sort through all of it. In novels, emotions need to controlled, even the out of control ones. The best books reveal the essence of the emotional story. You get maybe a paragraph. Move past the surface and uncover the bones and bedrock of your characters.

Here is a little section from the emotional journey of my WIP Profit.

This was Sarai's story. She was going to die here. The cold curling around her was drawing her into its abyss. Her thoughts slowed.  She'd been so focused on her dream, she’d missed every moment and the truth nipping at her—you don’t get to choose your life. Life chooses you. If she hadn’t been so focused on herself, her dream, what she wanted, she might have seen another path and followed it. She might have found meaning in something else, but instead she’d embraced one vision and heard what she wanted to hear. 

Be present in what life chooses for you. Embrace that it is your journey. Embrace what you must feel. Don't try to get out of it. Go through it with as much meaning and dignity that you can. Then take the gold and sprinkle it your stories. Dealing makes you the best person. It makes for the best story.

Hope this connects with you. I will be back next week with more lessons.

A doodle for your heart.

A quote for your pocket.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Novel Craft: A Better Ending

Hi folks, I'm continuing my series called Novel Craft. I'm uncovering what has worked for me in the last year as I have moved forward with my novel writing. This is a way to make a stronger ending to your book. I found it very effective. It helped me untangle some weakness in my plot and gave me new energy toward a project I had grown frustrated with.

I asked myself  a simple question: what is a better ending to this story?

Yes, that is it. I'm not great with complicated solutions. This is the absolute truth. I love to make complicated plans, but I rarely enact them. Embarrassing but true. I have to find elegant, simple solutions to succeed, and my writer-sense (not be confused with Spidy-sense) lets me know that my question was going to work.

My method to answer this question may seem weird; I talked to myself about it while driving my umpteen errands. I suppose people looked at me and thought that is one crazy gal. Oh, well. I chattered on about the tried and true ending, poking at my ideas. I started by asking myself questions. How can I make this character suffer more? How can her darkest moment be darker? What would bring this character bigger change?

There was a little drama, like--I don't know if this is going to work, and then, yay, ideas popped up. I continued to chatter on about the how these new ideas might be better than my old one. I chattered for about a half hour. I'm pretty sure I'm not the first author who uses the the professional "chatterer" technique.

Finally in midst of my chattering, eureka, a better ending to the story popped in my head.  A way better end. I wrote that ending, and, yeah, I started chanting (while writing), "I've got this!"

Hint, hint, simple questions and a conversation with yourself may help you improve your story or more, even your life. Try it. Thanks for dropping by. I will return next week with more on this series.

Here is a doodle for you:

Here is a quote that spoke to me this week. 

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. David Foster Wallace

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Novel Craft: Transitions

Hi folks, I'm spending the month of January chewing on novel craft. This week I'm going to talk about transitions. Transitions are about leaving one chapter behind and picking up the thread of the story in the next chapter. Chapters are a convention for ease of reading, but they are more for the novelist. Chapters help you present your story. It's a huge piece of how you keep your reader hooked and longing for more. The way writers keep readers engaged is by devising provocative transitions between chapters. These transitions grab readers attention, plunge them into new action, and ensure complete satisfaction during the reading experience. You might find that some of this transition talk helps you in transitions in your life.

Transitions are about how one chapter ends and the next one begins. Instead of trying to tie everything up in a chapter. You must think of a chapter transitions as a dynamic phase, smack dab in the middle of the action, the epiphany, and/or the relationships.  Transitions are not neat things all wrapped up in bows. A good end transition launches you toward the next chapter. Be prepare to leap in the middle of the mystery. Raise a big question and then just cut off the chapter. Journey toward something audacious but don't arrive, cut off just before that. Stop trying to end things in easy way, Complication, surprise, and turmoil? This is the true stuff of transition.

Now that you have ended the last chapter in a compelling way, it's time to turn the page to the next chapter. You have primed your reader if they had to put the book away until tomorrow. They will be thinking about the chapter all day. They must see that next page. So how do you get that next chapter going. Some transitions are easier than others. If the next chapter is in the same time frame. The next step is logical. It's usually about dialogue and a twist. It's the the transitions that require a jump that are harder, mainly because it causes the writer to leap. My recommendation, don't get bogged down with time, but launch immediately into the heart of what is important in your story. It might be musing from your main character. It might be at the next point in time that stuff is going down. The important thing is not being trapped in the minutia of time change, setting change, and interior thoughts. Cut to what is most interesting, upsetting, or exciting.

Last, it's important transitions build satisfaction, but that does not mean complacency. It's important that readers feel like they are on a journey. Transitions keep your story from being a series of episodes. They are glue for the overreaching arc. How? Stories need to going somewhere just like our lives need to be going somewhere. We are all looking for a point, even if the point is there is no point. Powerful transitions illuminate.They make the reader feel that this journey is worthwhile. Readers inhabit stories that are nimble, like a mountain goat leaping from one peak to the next--a glorious and amazing sight. Good transitions are fearless, seamless, thoughtful, and thrilling. They make for one satisfying read.

That's a teaspoon of transition chat. I hope something resonates with you. I will continue my novel craft series next week.

Here is a doodle. Veg.

Now for the quote for your pocket:

A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you're in and take advantage of it. Nikki Giovanni

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Novel Craft: Beginnings

Hi, folks! Welcome to a brand new year! This year I'm starting out with a series on novel craft. This week I hope I offer you some good advice about how to start your book. That's right, your book is like no other. Your start is like no other. A good novelist has come to trust her mojo. Books start in a myriad of ways: some with dialogue, some with backstory, some jump into the action, some blather on inside the main character's head, some start with the character waking up, some begin with the sunrise.  Regardless, a good beginning will spill some of that writer magic on the page--the I've-got-this-attitude.

Where does this attitude come from? There is no magic formula but here are three practices that will infuse your beginnings with your mojo. First, write and write and write. Next learn how to take charge and be your own boss. Finally give yourself pep talks. I will chat about these three hallmarks of a great beginning. (A hallmark is an invisible stamp that shouts this is one authentic book.)

First, you must write, not think about, not talk about, not plan about writing, but actually write.  This involves at least a million words before you reach minimally competent. So whatever it takes, begin to write. Type page after page. Fill journal after journal. Write failed story after failed story. You have found the road to a good beginning!  Kudos!

Next you must own your writing. If you are a writer, you should be receiving regular critiques of your work. That is awesome. Now you must learn to learn what to listen to and what to toss. This will take hundreds of critiques and hundreds of misses. Take the big risks. Go to that craft workshop you've been thinking about. Read the competition and then compete. Own failure and define it as a stepping stone to success. The thing you must realize -- you are the Boss. Expose yourself on the page, take the risk. You may fail. You may go broke. Regardless, exercise your exclusive rights, own your writing. Ownership will infuse your beginnings with you.  Good stuff.

Finally, learn how to pep talk yourself.  Here's the deal, the awesomeness must come from within. This is where your voice is. The self talk needs to work like this: I can do something awesome. Why not? I will write something that will shake the foundations. This beginning will blow my own mind, and it will totally transform everyone's universe. I will make this better, faster, stronger. I'm going to totally six-million dollar man this! (Note: if you are not doing 1 and 2, and doing 3, you are not looking like a genius...)

Take a few minutes every day and give yourself the pep talk. Do not neglect this step. Don't try to get this juice from others. If you are like me, call on the grace of I AM. No, no, you don't deserve unmerited favor, but ask for it (somebody out there really loves you), and then give the glory to the Architect of all things.

I just dropped a teacup of useful stuff in your brain: Work hard, be the BOSS, and finally pep talk yourself. All this will build beginning inertia for you. Inertia is all about getting you in a tendency of writing AWESOME beginnings. If you tend to write awesome beginnings, you will continue to write awesome beginnings.  This is something you can trust.

I hope you come back next week for more Novel Craft.  If your resolution is to finally write your novel, follow the steps.  (P.S. this advice works for every creative endeavor.)  Good luck!

Here is a doodle.

Finally, here is a quote for your pocket.

Writing is wretched, discouraging, physically unhealthy, infinitely frustrating work. And when it all comes together it’s utterly glorious. ― Ralph Peters