Tag Archives | creativity

The Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo

nanowrimo-badgeNanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) starts next Tuesday, November 1st. Are you ready? I did it a few years ago, resulting in an early draft of my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior.  And I’m planning to do it again this year to knock out a draft of a romance novel I have in mind. I think I have a pretty good plan for completing it, she said, modestly, which I shall share here.

First of all, loosely, here are the rules: you can prep as much as you want before November 1st, but you can’t actually write anything until that date.  Write 50,000 words and you win! Prizes include a button for your website and a certificate (at least that’s what they were last time I checked). You can sign up on the Nanowrimo website to get support and encouragement. If you’re a social type, many cities hold Nanowrimo write-ins that you can participate in.

All this is great, but the most important thing about Nanowrimo is that it encourages you to fling words at the page with abandon. You kinda have to if you’re going to meet that 50,000 word goal.  And please, please, please remember that THERE WILL BE MUCH REVISING NEEDED after November 30 has come and gone.  But you know that, right? (Its surprising how many people don’t.)

But, here’s the deal, guys, you only have a few days to prepare.  Like, three. But its not too late! You can totally get yourself in the right headspace to do this in three days. (Trust me, the right headspace is half the battle.)  And, I do highly recommend it.  Nanowrimo is a lot of fun, it  totally gets you over any fears you have about writing a novel, and it helps you learn how to silence your inner critic.

So here goes, the Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo:

  1. Come up with an idea. Maybe you already have one? Maybe you’ve had an idea for a novel for forever? This is the time to do it.  Here’s a little secret about writing a novel: you can use any idea you want. Really. Its all about how you put it together on the page. Just remember that all novels that work are based on conflict. Somebody (your main character) wants something, but forces array to prevent him from getting it.
  2. Do some prep work. This doesn’t need to be extensive, but it will help if you know your settings (main character’s home and work place, plus her hang-out at a minimum),and some things about your most important  characters (email me if you need a character dossier for this).
  3. Create a loose outline for your plot. (Quit cringing, pantsers.)  This can be as simple as a list of scenes or you can make it more complicated if your brain works that way. (Mine does not.)
  4. Write notes. Ponder things like theme, motivation, the above-mentioned conflict and write your thoughts down. These will likely change as you progress through the pages, but it is good to have some initial thoughts. I like to create a little binder or use a spiral for this, so I’ve got everything together in one place.
  5. Figure out a schedule.  I like to get up early and write, so that my most important thing is finished first. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day. If I stuck to it exactly, I’d end up with 60,000 words after the 30 days of November. But life does intervene. There’s Thanksgiving, for instance. And that’s a time suck if there ever was one.  With my 2K a day goal, I’m good if I lose a couple days to emergency grandchild watching or whatever.
  6. Monitor your habits. This is a good time to forego that nightly class of wine. (Brahahahaha. Like that’s going to happen.) Make sure you eat well and get enough exercise and sleep.
  7. Write like the wind.  Make freaking forward progress! Your goal is to hit 50K words, not obsess over every word. If you’re going to win this, you’re going to have to write fast.  The time for rewriting is when you are finished
  8. Be aware you might not finish. Winning Nanowrimo means completing 50,000 words on one single novel project in a month. You might choose, from the start, to write more of a novella, or know that you’re not going to be quite finished at 50K. And that’s okay–because you’ll have most of it done.
  9. Have fun. We don’t do this to torture ourselves. Do we?

So, are you going to do it? C’mon, let’s! Leave a comment and let’s chat about it.

2

What it Takes To Be a Writer: Part Two

(For the best part of this whole post, scroll to the end for the video. Seriously.)object_smiley_fruit_241984_l

When last heard from on Sunday, I was extolling the virtues of meditation and other such mental activities. Which might lead one to believe that one can sit in one’s chair and let one’s mind do all the work. Ha! Only if you have monkeys to do it for you. Too bad we can’t get them out of our brain and put them to work, right? But I digress.  Here’s the deal: YOU HAVE TO SIT YOUR BUTT IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE. You just do.  And worse, you have to do it over and over and over again, day after day after day to finish something.  You can’t just think about it. You can’t just ponder great, delicate thoughts about it.  You have to do it.  And I can’t help you with this. (Hell, I can barely help me with this.)  You just have to freaking do it.

And this is hard. It is hard for a couple reasons. Yes, because it takes time, and we have to find it, but really, that’s just an excuse. (A good one, and I rely on it often.) Because you can find time to write if you really want to do it. You can get up early, stay up late, sacrifice your lunch hour, give up Happy Hour with your husband, forgo watching TV.  You can, if you want to.  You (and I) just don’t. Because:

Energy and Bandwidth

What I think is a much bigger issue is twofold: having the energy and the bandwidth to do it.   We are all busy people, most of us way too busy.  (And we wrap that busyness around us like a shield at times, too. I know I do it.) And busyness is exhausting. Which leaves us with little energy for writing. It also leaves us with over-full brains.  Sometimes I want to write, but I just can’t connect with my WIP. Can’t find a way in. Can’t remember where I was, why I wanted to write the book in the first place. I simply don’t have enough mental bandwidth.  I’m exhausted, and so is my brain.

The antidote?

  1. Recognize that you’re exhausted and get some freaking rest. Sometimes you just have to say enough already and take a break. (For a helpful push in this direction, read Wayne Muller’s How to Be, Have, and Do Enough.)  I have a hard time doing this because its inbred in me to feel guilty when I take a break.  And then, funnily enough, when I do take a break, all I want to do forever is laze about.  Which may be why I resist relaxing in the first place, because I’m afraid I’ll never stop. (And now that I think about it, this is a clear sign of letting the busyness get to me.)
  2. Cleanse your brain. Besides meditation, which I’ve already recommended, the best way to do this is to watch what you eat. And, as far as I can tell, the only advice that everyone seems to agree on when it comes to nutrition is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. Beyond that, I believe that you need to figure out what works best for you. Some people do need to be gluten-free. Others can happily eat pasta and bread without a problem. And yet others, like me, need to be mindful of having enough protein at every meal to prevent energy crashes.  Only you can figure this out.  But remember that old adage from the sixties–you are what you eat–really is true.  And it affects our writing as well. (There’s also the issue of you are what you drink, but I’m not going there at the moment.)
  3. Take imperfect action.  When I get anxious and stressed is when I magnify things in my mind. I don’t just have to write a blog post, it has to be the best blog post ever. I don’t just have to write a scene in my novel, it has to be compelling and thrilling. Pretty sure this is the brain’s way of signaling overload.  But if you allow yourself to be imperfect and just do something, anything, you’ll feel good about it and then you can start to build some momentum.
  4. Say no. Or cop to the activities you’re saying yes to. What is more important to you–being volunteer of the year or writing your novel? I’m not asking facetiously, it is a serious question. Maybe it is most important for you to spend hours you could be writing at your volunteer post. No judgement. But if it so, then admit it and quit stressing about not having time to write. Just clearing the stress will open up mental bandwidth. Also, it is a good thing to say no. Period.

So you’ve got yourself all cleared and psyched up. Ready to go.  Your butt is in the chair. There you sit, ready to write. What next? That’s the topic of my next post. (I really didn’t think there were going to be three posts in this series, but this one is already pushing 800 words so it seems like a good idea.)

And, because we were talking about monkeys, and because I love ya, here’s a compendium of trunk monkey videos

What are you monkeys up to these days?

0

Fall Planning, A Special Offer and Off I Go

I’ve been working hard getting clients set for my absence while I’m in France, and I’ve found myself with a bit of time this week. And so I’ve been planning. If there’s one thing I love to do in this life, it is to plan.  Give me a calendar or a planner or a workbook or a template and I’m a happy camper.

When I get home, I’ll have three months left to make my mark on this year. Three short months! And I’ve got tons I want to write, novels, books, blog posts and newsletters.  So in order to accomplish it all, I’m going to need to be organized.  Hence the planning. (Never mind that sometimes I get so enraptured with my planning that I never get to the actual action-taking.)

But here’s the deal.  In all that planning, I know the unexpected will happen. Like people wanting to hire me.  And so I had an idea. (Those are my husband’s most dreaded words in all the world, by the way. Because when I utter them it usually means he’ll be moving furniture or painting walls or digging up a garden bed to create a sculpture garden.) What if I could get an idea who might want to work with me now, to aid me in my planning.

Just think, in the final three months of this year, you could:

–Write the first draft of a novel (Nanowrimo is coming right up)

–Start a blog

–Write and submit article and essay ideas

–Complete a couple of short stories or a novella

–Write a book proposal

The sky’s the limit! Wouldn’t it be great to end this year on a high note, knowing you’ve accomplished your biggest goals? (Because if you are like me, writing is always the biggest goal.)

So, in order to entice you to sign up  and pay, I’m offering a special deal. I’ll add in one session to my one-month package, which brings the total to five sessions, and I’ll add in two session to my three-month, paid-in-advance sessions, bringing the total to 14 freaking sessions! Geez, people, this is  smoking hot deal.

And yes, you are correct, there is a catch.  Because I don’t want to worry about administrative things while I’m in France, to take advantage of this offer, you need to sign up by the end of Labor Day weekend.  That’s midnight, Pacific time on September 5th.  And here’s the other catch: I’m not going to have time to chat with you beforehand. We can communicate via email, but no phone calls. Oh, and one more catch, which is that our coaching will begin in October.

But you can use the sessions any time you want, over as long as you want. And we can work on whatever you want. (For the record, each session is one phone call and me reading up to 20 pages of your work).

Here are the pay buttons. I look forward to working with you!

Three months coaching + two bonus sessions for $1200



One month coaching + one bonus session for $450


0

Dire Straits: No Internet for a Week

Yes, you read that headline correctly. I was without internet for a week. One whole freaking week. Of course, as luck would have it, I was out of town for part of that time, but still. Come on.

It started when a car ran into a pole a few blocks away. Sheared the damn thing off, so that the top part of it was dangling from the electrical wire.  Power went out to our entire neighborhood early Friday morning.  Let me tell you, it was downright creepy to awaken before dawn that day and realize there was no fan running, no clock, no glowing lights from the power strip. And most of all–no sound from outside. Nothing. You don’t realize how much noise all our things make until they all go away. I had the oddest feeling that the electrical grid of the whole country had been taken out. But luckily, it was just my zip code. And the power came back on within a couple of hours.

All except the internet.

I can live without the TV, and the landline (which is disconnected anyway). But internet? No way.

Okay, okay, okay.  So I do have a smart phone.  It’s not as if I was totally disconnected from the world. But I am old of a certain age and it turns out I’m lousy at managing my life and my clients and my business from my phone. Really lousy.  Careful as I am to scroll through all my emails, I still miss some. And there’s no way to send attachments from the phone.

I know. Whine, whine, whine.

Anyway, I called Comcast (sorry, I just can’t get used to calling them Xfinity) and scheduled an appointment for the next Wednesday, when I would be back home. So much for all those TV ads I saw while watching The Voice. You know, the ones about how Comcast now schedules evening appointments, when it is convenient for their customers. Ha! Nope, they couldn’t come when hub was home in the evenings. The earliest appointment that I would be home for was quite a few days hence.

I went to the beach for a few days and my husband came home early. Bless his heart, because he was able to download messages (hello, data usage), he thought the internet was back up and so I canceled the appointment.  But, no.  The internet was not back up. It didn’t work at all. Another call to Comcast, and another appointment a few days out.

But! There was hope! Turns out we had an “end-of-life” modem (I swear to you it was only two years old) that had refused to come back on with the rest of its brothers and sisters.  And all we had to do was dash up to the Comcast service center, four minutes away, and get a new one.  At said service center we were assured that all we had to do was plug it in and everything would work again. (Oh, and routers are no longer needed–cool!)

But…you guessed. We plugged it in and everything worked except the internet. Sigh. So I waited until yesterday when the nice cable guy, Ben, came over and hung out and fixed all my things. He even moved my new, improved start-of-life modem/router away from the bedroom where I’m sure it was emitting all kinds of foul vibes while we slept.

So now I have the interwebs again.

Yes, I know this should have been a lovely amount of extra time to work on my rewrite. And it was. Except I still had clients who were expecting responses from me. And emails to answer. And blog posts to write. And dealing with a tech fail takes time, people! But really, I’m whining on the yacht, because: smart phone.

But I thought you might want to know why I’ve not been blogging.  And….I would also like to let you know that after this tale of woe I’m going to need to take to my couch and read for awhile. No, actually, I’ve got to hunker down and get the rewrite finished.

And so I’m taking a brief blogging hiatus.  I’ll be back the week of the 15th.  However, I do send out a newsletter every other week, so if you’re not on my list, sign up over there on the right so you can get it.  I used to do a whole formal ezine thing but lately I’ve just been writing what I call love letters on various writerly topics.  I don’t post them on the blog, so the content is completely different. It comes out Sunday (next one will be August 14th).

Okay? Okay.

Oh, by the way, the France retreat is now full. Woot woot! But we’ll be going again next year, so if you’re interested, do let me know.  Debbie and I are working on a new website for Let’s Go Write and once that is done we’re going to get very official about a mailing list and actually send information out on it, too!

So now I’m going to go work on my rewrite. Actually, I’m going to go have a glass of wine and sit outside and talk to my husband.  Yes, I’m still speaking to him, even though he told me to cancel the first Comcast appointment. I’m not bitter. No, not me.

See you on the 15th.

3

Well Hey, Otherwhere, It’s Nice to See You Again!

I’ve been remiss in providing you with Otherwhere links for quite some time now. The problem is not that I don’t have enough, it’s that I have too many.  And when I start to corral them, I get overwhelmed.  Okay. Deep breath. Here we go (and forgive me if they are not in any particular order):

Finding your voice from Jen Louden (she’s doing a cool self-guided retreat on this, too.

Having empathy for characters not like you

The Ultimate Summer Reading Flowchart

Three Easy Edits for Better Emotional Impact 

When You Don’t Want to Write

How to Get Unstuck

Great Advice and Ideas from Asian-American Writer’s Workshop

8 Literary Gardens to Escape to This Summer

How I Organize My Time, Tasks, and Creative Ideas (from Sandra Pawula)

Okay, I could go on…and on…and on. But my cats are begging me to feed them and besides, this ought to be enough to keep you busy for awhile, no? Do weigh in on what you’re looking at on the web in the comments.

4

Out of Sync

united-states-army-385786-h (1)I’ve been out of sync with my writing lately.  (And my blog posts, too, as you may have noticed.) Off my feed, unchained from my computer, thinking about things other than my writing.

I’m best when I write every day, or close to it. I get into a rhythm and it becomes just something I do, not a task I avoid, or a thing to obsess about (when I could just as easily be writing).  But as soon as something throws me off my schedule, I’ve got to find ways to get back to it.  I struggle a little bit, and sigh and wring my hands and think about how awful life is. How I don’t have any time to write at all, ever.

And then I remember that my life is pretty damn good and actually I do have time to write, if I would only take advantage of it. I quit sighing and struggling. But those are all just interim steps. I still have to find my way back to my groove.

Today, as I spent another morning doing something else very important besides writing, several items that will impact my procrastination fell into my lap. Well, more like my computer.  Anyway.

First was this article by Barbara O’Neal about how she started listening to dubstep and it increased her output exponentially.  I’m still experimenting with this. (And please don’t ask me to explain dubstep, I actually don’t even know it when I hear it yet.) And never mind that going to Pandora to find some dubstep led me to ponder if I should try Spotify. Of course the answer was yes, and that took a bit to set up an account and then I remembered that Beth Orton had a new release out and…you get the idea.

I really am out of sync.

But here’s another one, a TedX Talk about how to find fascination in the every day. It really is worth a watch.  Thank me next time you’re staring at a pile of dishes in your kitchen sink.

And then, trying to be positive, I thought about the things I’m doing to get back in sync. That would be writing in my journal every morning (call them morning pages if you like), playing around with writing to prompts, and rereading my WIP.  Organizing my craft closet (not by choice–a huge yarn avalanche occurred when I opened the door and fell all over my office floor). Thinking deep thoughts.

I’ll get back to it soon. I have to, because I have another rewrite to accomplish.  There will be deadlines and such. Or at least I hope so, because giving me a deadline is another surefire way to pull me out of a slump.

What do you do when you get out of sync?

Photo from an army contest in 2004. Go figure.

4

Meanwhile, I’ll Be Busy Making S*&% Up

Writing a novel is, at heart, all about making shit up.

That phrase–making shit up–became the constant refrain of my Mapping the Novel workshop at the Sitka Center last week.  (It was the BEST workshop ever, mostly because of my wonderful students, but also because of the fabulous staff and the spectacular location. I could go on and on.)

In order to write a novel, you’ve got to make a lot of shit up. You just do. But then you have to shape the stuff you made up into some kind of form.  And that was the premise of the workshop–that you’ve got to let your right brain roam free but also learn the structures through which you will corrall it.

It is easy to get hung up on any part of the process (she said, having experienced getting hung up at many points along the way). But bear in mind that structures are part of craft and can be learned. You can study plot, scene, character, style, and theme. It’s hard, but you can figure out how to apply it so you make a novel with a cohesive whole.

What is harder, arguably, in this day and age, is the making shit up part. It’s the part where we let our brains run free, and allow our hands to follow them, putting word after word on the page–even when we don’t know where the words will lead us.

The making shit up part is why we become writers.  I mean, who sets out to write a novel because he wants to master plot? There may be a few of you out there, but I’d wager a bet that most of you want to write a novel because you’ve experienced the glory of writing, how good it makes you feel to lay down those tracks.

The making shit up part is fun–and its also sometimes really freaking hard to get ourselves to do.  But really, all you have to do is go do it.  Take a prompt, any prompt, set a timer for 10 minutes and go write! Do it now. Go make shit up.  You’ll be glad you did.

Leave a comment and let’s discuss your favorite way to make shit up.

**I had a couple of great photos from Sitka picked out to go along with this post but some reason, WordPress doesn’t want to let me upload them. If you want to see a ton of them, go to my Instagram page (and follow me while you’re there–it is one of my chief social media outlets).

4

Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway — For Writers and Creatives

The_ScreamFeel the fear and do it anyway is one of the great all-time phrases ever. And I certainly can’t take credit for the words. It was the title of a book that came out years ago, by Susan Jeffers, and I clutched that book to me like a life raft at the time.  I was reminded of the book again last weekend when the minister of my church referred to how she also found it life-saving back in the day. (Books really can change lives, never forget that as you write.)

I’m heading off to teach today, and I’ll be honest, I’m nervous. I’m not nervous about the material because I’ve taught it a million times (just not in this format). But I’m nervous about logistics, and getting there on time, and about how I’ve put everything together, and what to wear, and the biggie–what will people think of me? Will they like me? If you stop and think about that one for a minute, it is the most ridiculous fear on the planet.  We can’t control what other people are going to think of us. We can be kind and open but if someone takes an instant dislike to us, there’s not much we can do about it.  I can’t tell  you how many times I’ve taken an instant dislike to someone–and later become close friends with them. Yet this is one of the most crippling fears people have. Oh, we humans are a funny lot.

And here’s another funny fear: that of putting words on the page. Or paint on the canvas. Or stitches on the fabric. We creatives face the blank page and panic.  But why? Because all those thoughts about how people will react to the words on the page (which actually aren’t even there yet) crowd in and stop us.  We tell ourselves we don’t know how to do it, as if everyone else has innate knowledge of it that we don’t share. That’s simply not true. They learned it by doing it, just like everyone else. The one exception is my four-year-old grandson. He comes up with the most amazing facts and when I ask him where he learned that he just shrugs and says “I just know it.” Which is, come to think of it, probably the best attitude any of us can take.  Shrug and tell yourself “I just know how to write a novel.” “I just know how to put paint on the canvas.”

The thing is, if you’re afraid of something, it’s probably yours to do. That is one of the truest things I’ve learned through the years.  And so here’s my best advice as to how to deal with fear:

Take action.

That’s the best antidote to fear that I know. It doesn’t have to be big action, it can be something little. Tiny, even. Because teensy actions pile upon each other and cumulatively become big actions.  I remember reading Susan Jeffers book back when it first came out and being so fearful that the thought of taking action was simply overwhelming. Back then, I could never have imagined publishing a book. Leading writing workshops in France. Or teaching others. But little actions built up. I went to a meeting of a writer’s group. Joined a critique group. Put words on the page regularly and started shaping them into something more than journal entries. Took the scary step of showing those words to others.  And one day I found myself on the plane to Paris (alone–something else I couldn’t have imagined).

Before I started traveling regularly, I had a fear of flying. I’d grip the arm rests and hyperventilate during take-off and landing. But then I realized that if I ever wanted to go anywhere I better get over the fear. It is still not my favorite thing to do, but its not the worst, either.  Doing something over and over helps quell the fear (though I still get nervous about logistics, that’s for damn sure).

Write a word, make the phone call, visit the gallery you want to represent you. Send the query, ask someone for something you want, whatever it is that fear prevents you from doing.  Sit down at the computer and write the next scene of your novel or memoir. Because here’s the best part–once you’ve done that thing you’ll be flooded with the most glorious feeling of sweet relief.  Because you’ve overcome fear.  In many ways, I think it is the life journey we all share.

How do you overcome fear? Please share.

I’m off to teach at Sitka today, which is located on the beautiful Oregon coast, so I won’t be back in this space until next week. But follow me on Instagram for lots of photos!

The image is The Scream, by Edward Munch, of course, and it is in the public domain.

4

Writing Your Way Back to Yourself

Hohos JournalsYears ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Madeleine L’Engle, author of one of the best books ever, A Wrinkle in Time, speak.  I brought my sister, a designer along.  L’Engle was inspiring, gracious, and fascinating and when her talk was over, my sister turned to me and said, “She makes me wish I was a writer.”

Isn’t that wonderful? L’Engle had presented such an incredible picture of what it’s like to lead the writer’s life that even non-writers got swept up in the vision. And to me, it just reinforced what I already knew: that writing is the best passion in the world.  There’s nothing I love more than being totally enraptured by a story I’m writing, or completely wrapped up in putting together an article about writing.

But there’s another reason beyond both of these, that I love writing. And that is because it constantly and consistently brings me back to myself. Through throwing words at the page, I write my way home, over and over again.

It’s easy to get lost these days. There’s a cacophony of noise out there—social media, news headlines, videos, a contentious and distracting presidential election.  It is way to easy to drown in all of the input our poor overloaded brains take in on a daily basis and to feel confused, puzzled or out of sorts—without even knowing why.  When this happens to me, I pull out my journal.

It is all too easy to sneer at journal writing as the purview of the wealthy who have nothing more important to do than write delicate entries about their fragile emotions.  And yet, when one is in the grip of emotion, confounded about how to respond to the anxieties of the world, there is no better antidote than throwing words on the page.  I went through a period, many years ago, when I wrote in my journal every day.  That hasn’t been true of me for a long while, but I do journal in fits and spurts, regularly enough to call myself a journaler.  At the start of this year, for instance, I filled an entire spiral with words. And then one day I was just done and I didn’t journal again for a long time.

Most often these days I don’t journal because I’d rather be writing fiction.  If one has limited time to write, one must choose what one is going to write carefully.  Also, if one wants to write fiction but is blocked, one can easily use journaling as an excuse!  All those caveats aside, I do think every writer should consider keeping a journal at least sporadically, because it is so tremendously helpful in getting the crap out of your head and onto the page.

For the record, I come from a lineage of diarists. My maternal grandmother, who I don’t remember because she died when I was barely three, recorded a diary entry nearly every day of her adult life. (Those are her journals in the photo—they hold pride of place in a shelf in my office.)  To my great disappointment, they tell very little of her inner life, but rather, drily note who visited, what she made for dinner, etc. (And to what will likely be my descendant’s great disappointment, my diaries tell very little of what happened in my world, but rather are dedicated to me figure out emotions and stories on the page.)

There’s all kinds of journaling you can do.  I could write helpful snippets about writing morning pages , or keeping a gratitude journal, or writing unsent letters,, or writing about your day. But I’m not going to, because honestly, the best thing you can do is grab yourself a journal, open it up, and write. Start where you are now, wherever that is, and end when you’re finished. That’s all there is to it.

Do you write in a journal? Come on over to the blog and tell how you use it!

6

Mapping the Novel: A Whole-brained Approach

sitka center for art and ecology

So, today is Friday and usually often on Friday I do a round-up post called Five on Friday in which I tell what’s going on in my life. As I started to write that post today, I realized that most of it would be taken up with information about the workshop I’m going to teach in a couple of weeks.  So I decided just to devote the whole blog post to that instead. I think you’ll pick up a couple tips for planning a novel along the way.

The idea behind the workshop is that writing a novel is a back-and-forth process.  You must go back and forth between macro (the big picture, i.e., plot) and micro (the details that will bring your world to life), and left brain (structure, outlining) and right brain (creating characters out of thin air, free writing).  You can’t lean all to the right side or to the left–you’ve got to be conversant in each.

I tend to like to live on the right side of my brain. Creating characters? Creating worlds? You betcha! Forming them into a plot? Um, that’s a bit harder. Give me a prompt and a blank page on which to free write and I’ll have at it with gusto. But telling me to form my ideas into a logical, cohesive structure is way harder for me.  I’ve had to learn how to do those left-brained things in order to write novels. (And don’t tell anybody, but I sometimes enjoy it.)

(As a brief aside, I sometimes teach in Nashville with the wonderful Terry Price. For several years, we were co-directors of the Writer’s Loft, now called, for reasons inexplicable to me, Write, a certificate writing program I still teach at in Tennessee.  Terry used to tell people that, “Charlotte has a right brain and I have a left brain and together we make a whole brain.” And it was true!)

So, here’s what we’re going to cover in the three-day workshop. (I’m the kind of teacher that fiddles with content all the way up to the minute before we start, so there may be some tweaks in this.)

  • The Writing Process
  • Fundamentals of Fiction
  • Character
  • Structure
  • Story
  • Theme and Style
  • Setting

And the really fun part is that we’re going to let our right-brains run wild, making vision boards for our book, creating maps, and free writing to learn more about our worlds.  Then we’re going to get very serious and organize all our brilliance into usable format to actually write a novel–character dossiers, setting descriptions, and a workable plot, sketched out in loose outline form.  Students will leave the workshop ready to embark on writing the first draft of a novel. (But no matter where you are in the process, you’ll find information of use to you.)

All right, so getting this accomplished in three days is a tall order so maybe we won’t finish every single aspect of it, but people will leave with the tools they need to get ‘er done at home.  Sounds like fun? Want to join me? It’s June 8-11th, at the Sitka Center on the Oregon Coast.

I did promise that you would glean a tip or two if you read this blog post, so here goes:

  1. Take the time to do some prep work for your novel. Figure out characters and settings and at least a loose idea of the plot. The prepared writer’s mind is a productive writer’s mind.  Trust me on this–I’m facing a rewrite of the novel I wrote without any prep work done and it is a daunting task.
  2. Remember the writing process–prep, write a rough draft all the way through from start to finish, rewrite with big picture stuff in mind, rewrite again as many times as necessary, then revise (all the piddly stuff like grammar).
  3. Write your first draft fast. This is not the time to obsess over the small details. You want to get the story on the page. Don’t go back and fiddle with stuff because it may all change anyway. There’s no use in perfecting sentences if you’re not sure if the scene is going to survive.
  4. Believe you can do it. This is not just woo-woo crap, studies have shown that writers who visualize themselves in the act of writing are more successful at actually getting to the writing than those who don’t. (I wrote a blog post about this years ago and damn if I can find it.)
  5. Use the power of momentum.  In other words, write every day. Or at least open your file and look at it. Find a way to keep your story in your head so that your brain is composting ideas for you while you’re not at work.

If you have the time and inclination, I do hope you’ll join me.  But even if you can’t, I also hope you launch into writing a novel. It’s the best thing to do, ever.

Do you tend to be more left-brained or more right-brained? Please comment!

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