Your Story Needs Something. How to Figure Out What That Might Be.

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

When my granddaughter Olivia was a toddler, just learning to talk, she used to suddenly stop what she was doing, say, “need something,” and stagger in a babyish sort of way to the kitchen.  When Livie said “need something” she always meant food, so it was easy to satisfy her.

Alas, it is often not so easy for writers.

I’m in Collioure, France, teaching the second of two week-long workshops.  We meet every morning for instruction and writing and most often the assignments we give are related to the writer’s work in progress. During the first week, my co-leader Debbie decided that one of the pieces “needed something.”

I immediately thought of Livie, of course, because it always amuses me to hear those words. But then I thought further–about how to figure out what it is that your work needs. Sometimes that can be quite opaque. You know it needs something, but what? And how do you identify that what? These are the kinds of thorny writer problems that can stop you for days–or weeks.

But “needing something,” doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. Rather than let it do that, apply the cold light of writerly analysis to it, or at least as analytical as it gets around here (this being the province of a dedicated right-brain, ENFP, process-oriented writer).

Most often you’ll be asking yourself what is needed for a scene or character, but you can also apply some of these ideas to the big picture. You could try asking the following:

Collioure

Does it need a different setting? So often, a simple location shift can suddenly open up a scene.  Amazingly, nine times out of ten I find this to be the case. Changing a scene to a different setting is sometimes just what it needs. Sounds so simple as to be un-useful, but trust me and try it.

Does your character need more depth?  I am the type of writer who figures out the basics, doing some prep work in character, setting, and getting a rough idea of the story, and then plunges in. I learn from the middle what the story needs. And this often results in characters needing more depth. When this happens, I go back to the well, and learn more about their backstories and motivations. I look at their arc–where they start and where they end up–and study how that will affect events that happen in the novel.

Does the dialogue need more differentiation?  It is easy, especially in first draft writing, for all characters to end up sounding the same.  And, let me stress, this is totally okay in first drafts, because you’re just trying to get the story on the page. But if you’re feeling like your story needs something while you’re immersed in a later draft, take a look at the dialogue. Try giving your characters speech tics, or phrases they say repeatedly. Also remember that some characters might talk a lot, some only a little. Some might speak in long sentences, others in short bursts. Play around with it.

Does your scene rise or fall? Or, in other words, is it flat? A scene with rising or falling action starts in one place and ends in another.  Your main character may start out the scene feeling on top of the world–and end it as discouraged as she’s ever been. Or vice versa, in multitudes of variations. Examine your scene and see if you can give it some life by un-flattening it. An excellent book that tells about this in depth (maybe even too much depth) is Story by Robert McKee.

Do you need a second thing? Sometimes, a story, whether long or short, just needs another element.  We writers are often afraid to put too much into our stories, scared we’ll lose the focus. But often the opposite is true–we don’t put in quite enough. Is there a sub-plot you can add in? Something that

So as you can see, when your work needs something, you can view it through the lens of the fundamental aspects of fiction and figure out what is missing. I hope. Let me know how it works out for you.

And if you want to come to France for a writing workshop in an idyllic location next year, you can! We’ll have information about the 2019 event shortly.  In the meantime, you can check out our website for more information. But if you want to get on the mailing list, just email me.

This post contains affiliate links.

The Journal Chronology

While I’m in France, teaching writing, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating good cheese and bread, and drinking lots of wine, I’m offering either a collection of writing prompts, story starters, or exercises each week. This week, I have something a little different—a journaling technique you might find useful. Enjoy!

So here goes.  My current favorite type of journal writing is the Chronology.  This is my name for actually writing about the things that happen in your life, the people you run into, the day to day events that make up your existence.

The desire to write a chronology of our days is why many of us are drawn to journal writing.  It is the urge to make meaning of our lives, or perhaps the desire to leave something for posterity.  The chronology records history in the making if we’re lucky–witness the diaries of pioneer women that have been such wonderful records of that era.

The chronology is also fertile ground for practicing the writer’s craft.  In noting the details of your best friend’s outfit and how she never seems to wear things that match yet she always looks great, that you start to understand how to create characters that come alive on the page.  In writing a description of the coffee shop you visited the day before, the seeds of description and setting are created.  And so on, through all the aspects of observing a day to day life.

The chronology is what fills our journals with rich detail and interesting tidbits.  And yet, this kind of writing is what is often sorely lacking in my own diary.  Why?  Because when writing a journal on a regular basis, I tend to get lazy.  It is far easier to indulge in a whiny emotional outburst or write quick morning pages that are really more about the day’s to-do list than to really write about the what happened the day before: how the sun looked on the river as you crossed the bridge, or the way your son’s face lit up when he took a bite of chocolate.

I realized how the quality of my journaling had deteriorated when I read My Life in France, by Julia Child, after seeing the movie, Julie and Julia.  If you saw the movie, there were several scenes where Paul, Julia’s husband, is seen sitting at a desk writing letters to his twin brother back home.  Those letters were apparently so filled with detail and wonderful tidbits that they were used heavily by Julia and her nephew in writing her memoir (which is, by the way, delightful, and well worth reading).  Upon reading this I was struck by what a rich vein of gold letter writing results in, and then I realized that journal writing could be the same thing.  My journal writing could be a rich vein of gold, if only I weren’t so indulgent about all those whiny outbursts.  Or obsessed with to-do lists.

So, I resolved to actually write something of worth in my diary and began to sit every morning and write an account of the day before.  Yet this chronology meandered and lacked cohesion.  (I know, I know, it’s a journal, it is not supposed to be perfect.  But, as with all writing, I need to feel comfortable inside the form before it takes off for me.)  And then I read a charming article in O magazine.  I’m sorry I can’t point you to the exact month because I tore it out and gave it to my daughter, but it was sometime this past fall.  The article was written by a woman who had recently had a baby.  During her pregnancy, she wrote down every single item she had eaten and with whom, the idea being that her baby was the sum total of all of this food and company.

And from this I got my brilliant idea–keeping a Food Journal.  No, not the kind that nutritionists and diet experts tell you to keep, though that can easily be incorporated.  This kind of food journal notes not only what you ate, but where you ate it, who you ate it with and what they were wearing, what song was on the radio as you drove down the freeway with a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich in hand, whatever.  And then that leads to a paragraph about how, you guessed it, the sun shone on the river as you crossed the bridge over it and so forth and so on and before you know it you’ve written a chronology of your entire morning, full of lush detail and interesting anecdotes and now you’re onto lunch, which is a whole other story in itself, because your numbskull co-worker told that stupid joke and then your boss yelled at all of you while she had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

What the Food Journal really does is give you an excuse.  It gives you an excuse to write about everything that happened in your day, and in giving you a structure, it makes it so much easier than to meander about in your brain and try to remember what you did.  Food is life, as we know, and it turns out that writing about food makes remembering life easier.

This kind of journaling takes a long time.  Writing about your entire day could easily take your entire morning.  So, you might want to limit yourself to one aspect of it.  Or not.  What I find is that this kind of writing, the loving attention to the detail of reality, leads me back into the writing that I truly love doing–writing novels.  And then the hell part is that I get so engrossed in writing novels that I don’t have time to keep a food journal or really any kind of diary.

But that is okay, because my journal will be there waiting for me, as it always is, when I feel the need to write morning pages to get myself back on track again.  Or to do some writing exercises because I’ve lost my way and feel blocked.  Or because something happened to me of such import that I feel the urge to write about it.  That’s the great thing about journals–they are always there for you.

Are you a journaler? Got any techniques you use that you’d like to share? Leave a comment!

I will return to regular love letter programming on September 30th.

How to Get Ideas for Your Writing

While I’m in France, teaching writing, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating good cheese and bread, and drinking lots of wine, I’m offering either a collection of writing prompts, story starters, or exercises each week. This week, I have suggestions for how to get ideas for you. I hope it helps you to generate all kinds of juicy ones!

Writers need an endless flow of ideas. We need ideas for big projects, like a novel or a memoir, that will keep us engaged over the long haul.  We need ideas for all the things that go into long projects. We need ideas for small projects like short stories and essays. We need ideas for content—blog posts, sales copy, newsletters.

How do you get ideas?  Do you struggle to find them, or do they come to you in an endless flow that is frustrating only because you can’t act on all of them? Although most creative types fall into the latter category, I think if we’re honest we’ll also admit that there are fallow times when ideas aren’t quite so forthcoming.  Your writing life will be a lot happier and less stressful if you realize that this is part of the creative cycle and don’t beat yourself up over it.

  1. Keep a list of ideas. I have a pretty little Amy Butler three-ring binder that I keep ideas for blog posts and articles in.  This morning I perused them as I pondered what to write.  Even if you don’t use an idea from the list, looking back over it will get your brain going.
  2. Go surfing. Spend a few minutes navigating about on the web and see what jogs your interest.  Warning: this can be dangerous.  As in, an hour later you’re still reading articles and posts, justifying it because you’re supposedly searching for ideas.  To avoid this, give yourself a time limit. Set a timer, if need be.
  3. Go for a walk. This is the antithesis of #2.  But it is amazing how physical movement can jog your brain and let ideas flood in.  I find it especially helpful when I need inspiration in the middle of a project.
  4. Just start writing.  Not for the faint of heart, because it can so often bear no fruit.  But if you’re really desperate for an idea pull out pen and paper and start writing.  See what happens.  You might surprise yourself.  You can also:
  5. Collect prompts. The reason why prompts are popular is because they work.  A prompt is a jump-starter for your writing, a sentence or phrase that you use to get going.   I like to use them to gather ideas for current projects as well as to just practice writing.  It is best to cultivate prompts the way you cultivate friends–keep a list of them handy so you can go to it when needed.
  6. Read a book. A real book.  Step away from the computer screen and pick up a book, any book.  Grab a volume of poetry and sit with it for 15 minutes.  See if that doesn’t get the juices flowing.
  7. Visit a museum.  Or an art gallery.  Or an art supply store.  Or a stationery or office supply store.  Or a book store.  Go somewhere that contains either the finished product of creative effort or offers supplies for said activity.  A location that showcases finished containers or offers empty ones.  Either will inspire.

Bonus Item: Meditate or pray.  Or if you don’t like any of that woo-woo stuff, get quiet and breathe.  Ask for an idea.  See what happens.  It might be magic.

What are your favorite ways to get ideas?

I will return to regular love letter programming on September 30th.

The Usefulness of Lists for Your Writing

Photo by Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

While I’m in France, teaching writing, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating good cheese and bread, and drinking lots of wine, I’m offering either a collection of writing prompts, story starters, or exercises each week. This week, I have suggestions on how to use lists in your writing. Please do make me happy and write while I’m gone!

Make lists! The best way to do this is to do it fast. Number a page from one to ten or twenty and go!

Drawing from your own life

1. Jobs you’ve had
2. Careers
3. Passions
4. Obsessions
5. Quirks
6. Pet peeves
7. Loves
8. Interests
9. Favorite authors and their themes
10. Habits
11. Places you’ve lived or visited.
12. Hobbies
13. Your daily routine
14. Family members
15. Pets you’ve had
16. Names of streets you’ve lived on.
17. Items of clothing you’ve loved
18. Cars you’ve owned
19. Lovers/Relationships
20. Dreams you remember
21. Favorite movies, their themes
22. Favorite phrases, where did they come from?
23. Your most-used cliches

Now take a look at your lists. Do you see any themes emerging? Do all your passions and obsessions coalesce around one main idea with offshoots? Can you start to write about items on your list? For instance, under places you’ve lived, write what you like and don’t like about them. Start to cross-pollinate. If you want to write a piece of fiction, you could transpose your daily routine onto living in a different place.

What would your current life be like in a totally new environment? Even changing none of the details of your daily routine, in a new place it would be different. If you moved to a small mountain town in the winter, for instance, suddenly you’d have to build in time every morning to shovel the snow away from your car. Of if you moved to LA from a smaller city, the morning commute would be much different. If you moved from LA to the country, you’d suddenly free up tons of time you used to spend in the car.

What if you crossed the authors on your list and imagined them writing about another author’s themes? What if a very macho male author wrote about domestic issues? What kind of story would result? For non-fiction, what kind of essay could you write linking several contemporary authors and exploring their themes in terms of a current social issue?

Drawing from the World:

1.   Places you’d love to go
2. Political issues that make you crazy
3. Social problems you’d like to solve
4. Politicians you love
5. Politicians you hate
6. Celebrities you love
7. Celebrities you hate
8. TV shows you love/hate

Other ideas:

1. What you’d buy with a million dollars
2. What you’d take on a round the world journey
3. What three items you’d want with you on a dessert island
4. What people from your life you’d want with you on that island
5. Would you rather be too hot or too cold?
6. Other deep questions from childhood (like #5)
7. The first three things you’d do if you ruled the world

You can think of numerous other ways to cross-pollinate from your lists, and you can also think of other things to add to it. Write new ideas for lists as they occur to you. Keep going back to the lists and use them as the basis of a journal entry or a free-write. The thing about ideas is once you start cultivating them, they come fast and furious.

Do you find making lists helpful in your writing? Leave a comment!

The Mysteries of Story (A Love Letter)

In a phone call with one of my beloved clients this week, we discussed stories and how sometimes you have to grab the while they are white hot in your mind, and how sometimes you have to let them rest. I firmly believe that every story has its own time to be told. If a story isn’t ready to go out into the world, it’ll block you. And fight you until you either wrestle it to submission or set it aside.

Don’t feel guilty about the stories you set aside. (I have many of them.) They’ll come back around again when the time is right, either in your brain, or the world. Or maybe their essence will turn up in your novel, or the short story that just popped into your brain.

One of my favorite characters of all time is a sixty-year-old self-help writer named Earl Wilson. He started out in one of the stories that lies moldering on my computer but then leapt into being as I wrote The Bonne Chance Bakery. His books make an appearance in the novel I just sent to my agent. And I have an idea for a short story featuring him. That first story he appeared in wasn’t his, apparently. And sometimes you just have to go with weird stuff like this. No matter how hard we study them, stories are mysterious creatures.

So, don’t stress if your story isn’t quite working out. Maybe it is time to set it aside and trust that its time will come. And don’t ever, ever, throw anything away. Nothing is wasted in writing. You never know where that bit you deleted out of your WIP will appear again.  Treat every element of your stories with respect and they’ll show you were they belong.  Don’t take it all so seriously. Stories lie deep within you and sometimes it takes a while for them to wriggle their way out.

I have new stories coming to me, I’m quite sure, as I embark on a month in France next week.  A scheduling note: while I won’t be posting my usual love letters every week in September, I will be sending out a newsletter. I’m assembled writing exercises and story starters each week, so you can get a ton of writing done while I’m gone.

Things to note:

— My dear friend Terry Price  and I are offering the second part of our Spark to Story workshop. Don’t worry if you missed the first one, this one will work fine for you! They are related, but separate. The workshop is November 2nd and 3rd. Please check out more here . Registration is open!

–Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Do join us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Anticipation (A Love Letter)

In ten days I’ll board a plane to Paris (well, I’ve got to get to L.A. first). And I’m excited. Through some great, amazing stroke of good luck, this will be my second trip to France this year. (The first one was for a writing retreat, and this time is to teach.) I think, because it’s been only five months since I was last there, I’m anticipating my return trip with even more excitement.

But I’m also madly scrambling around, trying to get things done. As one does. But even the mad scrambling is tinged with excitement and anticipation. And that has me thinking about anticipation—and its usefulness. Because anticipating something you’re looking forward to can be as pleasurable as the event itself.

“Anticipation alerts all of the pleasure centers in the body and says wake up, which can create happy feelings,” says Stacy Kaiser, Editor-at-Large of Live Happy magazine, and a licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles. “A lot of times people are afraid to anticipate because they don’t want to be disappointed, but I think they’re missing out on learning and moments of joy. (I snitched this quote from an article in Spirituality and Health Magazine.)

So that’s cool but think also how this applies to our writing. First reading (which is an integral part of writing). Think how you anticipate when you read. What’s going to happen next? Will the main character accomplish her goal? How will he overcome the obstacles in front of him? Doesn’t it all give you a pleasurable thrill? In a really good book, the anticipation is so exciting you can barely turn the pages fast enough.

And you can use this very human trait in your writing. As a matter of fact, you should. Anticipating in writing is sometimes called suspense and even if you are not writing a mystery or a thriller, you should have it in your novel. You want your reader to be desperate to find out what happens next.

Easy for me to spout off about, but how do you accomplish this? One word: conflict. The more the better. I know you know this. So do I. But it is one thing to know it and another to make sure your writing has enough of it. We fall in love with our characters and don’t want to make them suffer. But do it! The more conflict you heap on them, the better—you’ll make your readers so full of anticipation they won’t be able to put your book down.

Leave a comment and tell me what you are anticipating!

Also:

And, speaking of France, we had a last-minute cancellation for the workshop in Collioure, so there’s an open spot! C’mon, live adventurously and join us!  A week in France, devoted to camaraderie, hiking, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating delicious fish and bread and cheese and drinking wine? Plus a transformational writing experience? Yes, please.

And don’t forget to join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Do join us!

On Clarity, And Why You Need It (A Love Letter)

If there’s one thing I know for sure about myself and my writing habits, it’s that I need clarity in my life. And, life is puzzling. Life is overwhelming. Life can get out of control. Life can require decisions to be made. I also need clarity in my writing. And, of course, writing is puzzling and overwhelming, too. And there are tons of decisions to be made.

So often sometimes clarity is hard to achieve. When I don’t have it, I dither. I procrastinate. I waste time looking at coats on the internet. In other words, I do nothing.  A couple of recent examples:

–In my ongoing efforts to cultivate meaningful relaxation time (rather than, say, falling asleep with my mouth open on the couch or scrolling through my Instagram feed), one recent evening I thought I’d do some knitting. Or maybe I’d work on that rug hooking kit I started before it got so hot? Hmmm. Not sure.

You can guess what happened. Nothing.  A big fat nothing. I didn’t do either. I grabbed my phone and scrolled. And looked at photos of people who had created beautiful knitted and rug hooked items. Sigh.

–I am a dedicated online shopper.  Internet retail was created just for me. I support many UPS and FedEx drivers with my habit. But sometimes I put things in my cart and then I can’t decide. I click away. I go back and take a peek. The company emails me that I’ve left something in my cart so I have to go take another look.

I drive myself freaking crazy with my indecision and lack of clarity. (Of course, some part of me must love this because I just keep doing it.) And I am here to tell you this: a lack of clarity=indecision=no progress.  Whether it is buying something or writing something or being creative in any way, you need clarity.

What to do if you don’t have it? If you just can’t seem to make up your mind?

Just take a step. Take an action. Go in what looks like the best direction at the current moment. If you can’t make up your mind about what you should do, try working on something else. (I wrote this newsletter early this week, because I was full up on my novel for the moment.)

Often, clarity in writing will not happen until you actually start writing.  Yes, prep work is good and I’m a firm believer in it. But sometimes all the preparation in the world won’t get you where you need to go until you launch in.

It always comes back to that, doesn’t it? Just do it. Just write.

In Case You Want to Read More…

 I’ve been putting a lot of posts up on Medium for a variety of reasons. I’ve actually been planning to write a blog post about this here—thank you, Suzanne, for the suggestion). That will happen all in good time. In the meanwhile, here are links to ones that are up:

Positivity is a Force—Wield It

There’s a Big, Beautiful World Out There

And Don’t Forget

 –We had a last-minute cancellation for the France workshop, so there’s an open spot! If you’ve been thinking about it, now’s your chance.  It is not too late to buy plane tickets!  A week in France, devoted to camaraderie, hiking, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating delicious fish and bread and cheese and drinking wine? Plus a transformational writing experience? Yes, please.    

–Join the Facebook group.  Participating in groups is the only way I like to be on Facebook and this one is good. It goes quiet periodically, but then it perks up again. I try to post something of interest every day (or at least every few days). Do join us!

 

What to Do When You’re Fresh Out of Ideas (A Love Letter)

The summer doldrums are here—and I’ve been fresh out of ideas. For anything. I haven’t posted on this blog, besides putting these newsletters up, in a couple of weeks. I was going great guns on Medium, posting a lot, and then I suddenly stopped.  I couldn’t think of anything to say in either place. And let’s not even mention the word fiction, okay?

This happens sometimes. You may have the will to write, as well as the time and the energy, but no ideas. And with no ideas, the will to write withers away.  I also think that this happens a lot for new writers. I remember wanting to write so badly, but not having the first clue what to write. So, in case you are in the same situation, and for my own sake as well as yours, I’ve assembled some ideas about how to come up with ideas in this newsletter.

Technique for Producing an Idea. There’s a classic old book written by an advertising guy back in the golden age of advertising, called, Technique for Producing Ideas. I read this book in journalism school and often follow its precepts. The basic one being: fill your brain up with every single bit of information on your topic, then set it aside. Go weed the garden or play with your kids or take your dog for a walk (see below). Just forget about it. And after a while, the idea you need will pop into your head! The book is still available and it is only $1.99 in Kindle. A quick read, really worth it.

Prompts. This is the tried and true way. Get yourself a prompt (there’s tons all over the internet or you can buy my prompt book) and write. The best way to use prompts is to choose one (without wasting a lot of time obsessing over which one), set a timer, and write for 15-20 minutes, without stopping. And I mean without stopping, people.

Make lists. For some reason, making lists is a great brain jogger. List ten things you did yesterday, ten people that interest you (famous ones, friends, family members, doesn’t matter), ten locations that intrigue you, and so on. List anything you can think of and then put the list in your writer’s notebook so you can refer to it any time and use items from the list as prompts.

Brainstorm. James Altucher, who is one of those people that is all over the internet but I’m not sure who he is, says to write down ten ideas every day. It is not bad advice.  Similar to list-making, just write down ten ideas about anything. You never know which one will develop into something.

Go for a walk. Something about walking jogs loose ideas for me. It is helpful to walk mindfully and engage your five senses to observe your surroundings. Take a notepad or your phone so you can make notes.

Go for a drive. I love driving, and it also often inspires new ideas to flood in. Again, be mindful. I find these days that I love the quiet when I’m driving, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago—I always had the radio or music on. But now I like the silence and time to think.

Quit worrying about it.  Yes, we live in a fast-paced world where you’re only as good as the most recent thing you wrote, but it is also okay to take a break. I was on the phone with one of my favorite clients yesterday and she shared how at the moment, she’s just letting things to do with her business go. She’s got a lot of distractions (good ones) in her life and so she’s just not worrying about things. I believe sometimes our brains need a break. And if we give them one, they will reward us with tons of new ideas.

Those are some ideas that might help if you, like me, are experiencing the summer doldrums.  How do you come up with new ideas? Leave a comment!

It’s Summer, You Should Be Reading (A Love Letter)

It is summertime, and it is hot and nobody feels like doing anything. So, in my book (hahahaha) that means it is time for a lot of reading.  Hot summer afternoons are made for lying on a hammock, or in air-conditioned comfort, giving yourself over to a book.

Who has time for such things? You do. You must. Please don’t tell me you don’t have time to read. Because if you are a writer and you’re not reading, then you are not a writer, period. Writing is your first job. Reading is your second. And it is almost as important.

I think most writers come to writing because of their love of reading. I know I did.

When I was a kid, we lived about five blocks away from the library. My sister and neighborhood friends and I used to walk to the library (back in the days when you didn’t need as much adult supervision) and stagger home carrying huge stacks of books. Then we’d lie on cots under our car port and while away hot afternoons reading, every once in a while stopping to run through the sprinkler to cool off. I still go to the library—but now I walk to my car with stacks of books cradled in my arms.

These trips to the library drastically influenced my future career. Thank God. I don’t remember the moment when it occurred to me that all those books I loved to read were actually written by somebody. But I do remember thinking there ought to be a career for readers. And guess what? There is. It’s called writing.

Because one of the best things about being a writer is that reading is actually part of your job. During my first semester in my MFA program, I remember lolling on the couch reading a novel that my mentor had assigned me, luxuriating in the feeling that I was actually working.

 It’s no surprise that many MFA programs base their programs on reading, because it is one way you can teach yourself to write. And it is no surprise that writers like Inglath Cooper say, “Everything I know about writing books I learned from reading books.”

Lately I’ve been trawling the pages of Amazon (it’s too damn hot to get to the bookstore) looking at best book lists for two reasons:

–We are looking for a suitable title for our book-in-common for the France workshop

–I’m looking for a couple of books I can study that have good twists and turns.

Here’s why:

During the France workshop we always select a book to assign everyone and then we use it as a teaching tool. For some reason this year we are having a hard time coming up with one that Debbie and I agree on. Some titles we have read before include Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, and They May Not Mean To But They Do by Cathleen Schine.   Any suggestions?

And I’m looking for examples of books with twists and turns, preferably not too dark, because I got notes from my agent. She’s happy with my novel the way it is and we could go out with it this way….but she also thinks that if I added a twist or two, we could go bigger. And I’m all for bigger! So, people, tell me—books with twists and turns?

So, upshot of the story—if you have any recommendations for either of these categories, do hit reply and tell me. Or just leave a comment and tell me what you’ve been reading!

Do Me a Favor and Go Easy on Yourself, Okay? (A Love Letter)

Hey guys, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s summertime! Today in Portland it is a perfect summer day: blue sky, not too hot, a nice breeze. I’ve been taking regular breaks outside to read and knit, shooing yellow jackets away (we have a nest on the driveway).

But last week it was hot, beastly hot. And on hot weather and perfect summer days both I like to relax. I like to indulge myself with the afore-mentioned knitting, my new hobby of rug hooking, a little reading. On hot summer days I want to eat popsicles and fruit and drink chilled white wine and have dinners under the stars that last until bedtime.

None of which is conducive to writing.

Which makes me beat myself up something fierce.

Like: why are you wasting your time knitting? Why are you drinking that glass of wine? You’ve not gotten your word count yet? Why are you reading? Why are you taking time to do the crossword puzzle? Why are you relaxing? Why aren’t you writing.

Like that.

If you are anything like me, I bet you do the same thing. And to you (and to me) I had two words to say: stop it! Stop it, stop it, stop it! Just stop it.

Because: it is summertime and we’re supposed to be distracted. We are supposed to be enjoying long, lazy afternoons lazing about. And also: believe it or not, relaxation and, dare I say it, self-care, actually help you get all your important things (like writing) done. Truly. A relaxed mind is a productive mind.

Truly, it is. Over and over again I notice that on the days I allow myself some ease, a few breaks out back or time with the grandchildren, I get more done. And this is because I’m not frantically trying to stuff every little thing into my day. Try it. You’ll see.

Your assignment this week, if you choose to accept it, is two-fold. First, quit beating yourself up about how lazy you are. And second, give yourself the gift of some summer time off.

Then leave a comment and tell me how you are going to let yourself off the hook this week!