Five on Friday: Raining Again

What I’m Complaining About: The weather. Again. I’m sorry. It has been a really long winter here. My husband looked at the weather app on his phone this morning and said the forecast was for a clear day on April 9th. Sigh.

What I’m Watching: In the category of We’re Old and Clueless About Technology, we finally got our Amazon Fire stick working with the TV (thank you daughter-in-law, who fixed it in, oh, two seconds).  And wow, are there are a lot of great things being produced by Amazon.  We’ve watched three of four of Z: The Beginning of Everything, about Zelda Fitzgerald.  It stars Christina Ricci as Zelda, and if you thought of her mostly from The Addams Family, you’re in for a surprise, as I was.

What I’m Reading: Finishing up the Rachael Herron book from last week. I’ve been out several nights this week and haven’t had a lot of time to read. Also, I have this bad habit of reading magazines at lunchtime.   But I’m now reading as fast as I can because a crop of great books just came in for me at the library: the first Maisie Dobbs novel, The Underground Railroad, and Scratch, which is an anthology about writers and money. Speaking of which, I see library fines in my future because none of these are renewable. I consider my library fines my contribute to their existence. We have one of the best and busiest library systems in the country here, and I use it lavishly.

What I’m Doing This Weekend: Working on taxes.  It is going to rain all weekend anyway. This is a cheery post, isn’t it?

What I Re-learned This Week:  That when you stall on writing a story, and something is bugging you, there’s a reason for it.  If something doesn’t feel right, it isn’t.  Most often my experience is that the scene is set in the wrong location.  That was the case for me this week.  I was also wrestling with whether to set the scene in real time or backstory. Both have big disadvantages.  But finally this morning, as I was driving in my jammies home from dropping my husband at the light rail station, I thought of an entirely new place to set the scene–and that opened it all up. I’m happy now. The weekend may proceed.

What’s up with you? What are you reading, watching, working on?  Tell me interesting things.

Photo by Scott Robinson.

On The Importance of Confidence in Yourself–and Your Writing

On my writing retreat last weekend, I reread my novel. Yeah, that’s right. The one I told everyone how terrible it was. How it needed major surgery. How it had plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them. How the characters were undeveloped.

In re-reading it I found that all of the above was true–to a certain degree.  But overall, the draft had a lot going for it–engaging characters, a great setting, a fun conflict (if conflicts can be considered fun).  And the writing was solid, mostly, even though I wrote much of it quite quickly.

The book wasn’t bad, but my attitude was.  I had been busy telling myself it was a piece of crap, that it was terrible and hopeless and going to be impossible to rewrite.  And that, in turn, made me feel terrible and hopeless and like I was worth nothing more than, well, a piece of crap. Because as goes my writing, so goes my life.  I’m happiest–and most confident–when I’m deep in the middle of writing a story.  And having confidence in my writing is a huge part of sustaining a regular writing practice.

So how did I manage to so spectacularly lose it? I’m not really sure, but I think it has to do with not being actively engaged in writing a novel.  I am always writing something, even if it’s just journal pages, but when I’m not working on a story of some kind, I lose faith in myself.  Of course, one needs to take a break sometimes.  And that’s what I thought I was doing. Instead, I was berating myself for the terrible work I’d done.

But, as is so often the case, the opposite of lack of confidence is not good either. This is when you are so puffed up about your work that you can’t take constructive criticism from anybody, or make good decisions about it yourself. Because you are so sure that it is all perfect! Sometimes writers mistake the experience of writing for the end result. In other words, just because the words flowed easily and you had a blast writing it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect at the end.  I’ve not yet seen a first draft that couldn’t stand some tinkering.

But I see far fewer cases of that than I do instances of writers lacking confidence in themselves. Years ago, when my kids were little they’d get worried if I was going to go complain to a teacher of a school principal about something, not wanting me to rock the boat.  I’d say, “If your mother isn’t going to stand up for you, who is?” I hope it taught them something about standing up for what was theirs.  And that’s how I feel about writing. We’ve got to learn to stand up for our work–without getting too egotistical about it.

Me included.

How’s your writing going? Do you have confidence in it?

The Space You Work In

A clean desk is the sign of a …. oh never mind.

Where do you do your writing?

Do you have a dedicated space for it, or are you a nomad, roaming from table to couch to bed to desk?

I tend to be very settled in my writing habits, i.e., I sit at the same space every day and work at my computer. Problem is, I’m also a very messy human. Well, maybe not messy, but disorganized.  I like paper and I like making notes and I have this thing that requires I write something down to remember it. All this adds up to lots of stuff to keep organized.

Or, put another way, a very messy office.

I had stacks of paper all over, along with towers of books, binders and spirals spilling over the edges of tables, and general assortments of things nobody knew what else to do with except put in my office.  My business coach told me I needed a clean space in order for money to flow in. I told myself I needed a clean space in order for the words to flow.  But no matter what I did, that didn’t seem to happen.

I lived with this mess for, um, almost a year and a half.  Ever since I moved my office to its current space.  Before this, I worked upstairs, where I felt removed from everything, and not in a good way. (When FedEx knocked at the door, it was a mad dash down slippery carpeted stairs to get there before they returned the package to the truck.) Before that, I worked in the same space I am now. Before that, I worked in a corner of our unfinished upstairs (and when the house caught on fire, the fire stopped just short of my computer and my lifelong collection of journals). Before that, I worked on the kitchen counter. And before that, I worked at a desk set up in a corner of our bedroom. So I’ve been in a variety of spaces over the course of my writing life and pretty much none of them have been organized.

However.

I finally accomplished it. My office is clean and I love it.  I can think better when I’m not staring at piles of paper.  And thinking better translates to writing better.  But it took me a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out what works well for me.  And I’ve been an inveterate studier of writing spaces for forever. So I offer up a few ideas in case they might help or inspire you:

  • I really love surrounding myself with things I love. Like photos of family, goofy gifts people have given me (I have two, count ’em, two physical representations of Poo–as in the Poo emoji), pictures of France taken and drawn by my husband, the first weaving I ever did.
  • Must have books around me
  • I work best when my computer desk, where I spend most of my time, is clean and neat and not surrounded by teetering piles of crap. So I traded in my massive long Ikea desk/table for an old and very small desk. Most of the time, it stays clean. The tables and shelves around me might not be, but at least my desk is. Helps that it’s too small to stack much on.
  • Because of the above, I created a space where I can do my journal writing and other creative projects, which makes a huge difference.
  • Lots of space for office supplies. This was part of the problem before–I didn’t have enough room for them and they got piled and buried all over the place.  I finally figured out I had room to move a long shelf in and this has made an enormous difference.
  • Boxes of file folders beneath the work desk. Here they can stay out of sight until I need them.
  • Good lighting.

Because of all these requirements, my office is cramped.  It is a small room, after all. But I don’t care–I love it. Instead of staring at piles of crap and thinking about what a disaster I am, I now stare at pictures of family and think how lucky I am.  I feel more productive in a space I love. And since I spend most of my waking hours in this room, that is a very good thing.

Where do you work? What kinds of things do you like to fill it with?

PS.  An article I wrote for Magical Goddess magazine just came out! It’s about writing, natch. Find it here.

Five on Friday: Daylight Savings Time This Weekend

What I’m happy about: Daylight savings time coming this weekend. If daylight savings time is here, spring can’t be far, right? Can’t come soon enough around here. We’ve had rainy day after rainy day after rainy day. And that’s after so man snow and ice storms I can’t even count them.  Even I, the original rain lover, am ready for some sunshine.

What I’m happy about #2: My upcoming writing retreat to Astoria, an historic coastal Oregon town. I mentioned it briefly last week, too, because I’m excited! There’s just something so energizing to getting away with the express purpose to write.  I love it.  And I’m hoping to eat some luscious oysters from Netarts Bay here.

What I’m reading: Commonwealth, which finally came in at the library.  This novel by Ann Patchett has gotten mixed reviews but so far I like it. Though she writes in a very, for lack of a better word, deep style. She utilizes an incredibly close-in viewpoint, in which you are in the characters’ heads moment by moment, seeing the scene unfold step by step. It is intense, and fascinating, but I also feel like I have to read every word to follow it all.  Lots of characters in this one, too, which requires much flipping back to figure out who’s who.

I’m also planning to take the first Clover Tate mystery, written by my friend Angie, to the beach next week. Because, A. it is set at the beach, and B. I may need some lighter reading.

What I’m writing: Backstory scenes for the romance novel I’m about to rewrite. I didn’t quite understand some of the aspects of my two main characters and this is helping me enormously.

What I’m happy about #3: My office! It is clean and organized, full of all my little things that I look at from my desk. They make me happy. After years months of the space being in upheaval, I’m delighted it is organized at last.

Happy Friday! What’s going on with you?

Writing Scenes to Unearth Character

He had plenty of character!

As many of you know, I’m a fan of all kinds of novel prep, including creating character dossiers to allow me to learn more about my characters.  I use them to keep a record of the external stuff (really helps when you need to remember someone’s eye color mid-way through a book) and to start to dig into their desires and motivations, all the good juicy stuff.

But lately I’ve been experimenting with something else, and that is writing actual scenes from my character’s backstory.  I resisted this idea terribly when I first came across it in Lisa Cron’s book, Story Genius.  Because, it seemed like a waste of time.  Who wants to spend time writing a scene that might not appear in the novel, when you could spend that time writing one that will?  Then I picked up The Art of Character, by David Corbett, and he suggests the same thing. Sigh.

So I decided to try it. And I’m starting to be sold.  Here are some of the reasons why I like writing backstory scenes:

  1. First and foremost, you’ll learn more about your character–and character is all, isn’t it, class?
  2. It’s good writing practice.  Like practice practice. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in all the things you need to do to plan a novel and forget what it’s like to write a scene.
  3. It’s very freeing–and fun.  We don’t let ourselves have fun with our writing often enough, as far as I’m concerned. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Let loose from the idea that this scene will appear in the book, you’re free to take it wherever it wants to go.
  4. On the other hand, you may end up using the scene, or parts of it, in the novel eventually. Who knows?
  5. Or maybe it will turn into something else.  Like a story that is a companion to your novel. Or, if you’re writing a series, maybe it will appear in the next one. Nothing is ever wasted in writing! (I wrote about this for my newsletter this Sunday. If you’re not a subscriber, just fill out that form to the right.)
  6. The more you write, the better you get at it, and this is especially true of scenes.
  7. It can blast you right out of a block.

Give it a try. Figure out some things you need to know about your character and then write a scene around it. You may be surprised at what you learn about her.

What have you done to learn more about your characters?

Photo by cmx82.

Five on Friday: Almost Spring. Right? Am I Right?

By Photo: VOA - A. Phillips - VOA, http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/arts/Poet-Embraces-Late-in-Life-Love-Tender-Sorrows-132785243.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17186104
Jane Hirshfield

What I’m Reading:  The Couple Next Door,  by Shari Lapena, a book I picked up on a whim from the “Lucky Day” shelf at the library. I started reading is Saturday evening after teaching all day, read after two small boys I babysat that night went to sleep, read with breakfast Sunday morning, and finished after church that afternoon. It is a page turner!

I’ve also been working a bit with Story Genius: How To Use Brain Science To Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel. The author, Lisa Cron, had me at brain science. I love that stuff. But in truth, there’s not a whole lot if in there. I have mixed feelings about this book.  I love the first part of it, in which she has you dig deep into your protagonist’s inner journey.  But I get a little nervous when people tell me exactly how to structure scenes and plot.  I always welcome guidance on this, but I don’t want to follow any one system slavishly. There’s a lot of great stuff in this book, though, and it is well worth reading, if you complete her exercises or not.

What I’m Watching: Same stupid sitcoms from last week. However, I’m happy to report that many of you also watch them. I feel vindicated. And, in the Department of Confessing How Pedestrian My Tastes Are, next week my favorite show starts up again. That’s right, its time for The Voice.  One of the reasons I love this show is that it demonstrates what it takes to make it.

What I’m Loving: The Writer’s Almanac, which is a daily newsletter you can sign up to have delivered to your inbox. For the love of all that is good and holy, why haven’t I known about this before? It features a poem, and a quote about writing, and then a couple longish almanacky-type  articles about something of interest–a person born on that particular day, etc. Bonus: you can listen to Garrison Keillor read the whole thing. One newsletter this week featured the poem Recuerdo, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Again: why don’t I know about this kick-ass poet and the amazing life she led? (Okay, don’t answer that, it’s because I tend to ignore poets and poetry. To my detriment.)

Another Thing I’m Loving: This line, from the poem Sweater, by Jane Hirshfield:

Lucky the one who writes in a book of spiral-bound mornings

a future in ink, who writes hand unshaking, warmed by thick wool.

Yes, the Writer’s Almanac has done the impossible–gotten me reading poetry again. (And yeah, I go from the sublime (poetry) to the ridiculous (The Voice) not just here, but everywhere in my life.)

What I’m Happy About: Wonderful new clients on my roster who are doing good work. I love working with them! (If you are interested, book a connection call!)

What’s going on with you this week?

Photo from Wikipedia.

Writing: Exhausting or Energizing?

A while ago, one of my wonderful clients mentioned that after a good writing session, she felt exhausted. Boy, could I identify with that, because I often have the same experience.  After a particularly intense stint at the computer, I sometimes feel like doing nothing more than crawling away and collapsing in a quivering heap.

And yet, I’m also energized. And excited. And in love with the world. It is a strange mixture of exhaustion and joy. Years ago one of my  MFA mentors and I marveled at how it was possible to get a blood sugar drop (an experience usually reserved for being physically active) from an avid writing session. She related that a neurosurgeon friend of hers had told her that under intense concentration, the brain can use up as many calories as one’s body does when exercising.  I’ve since had other people vigorously refute this, but I prefer to believe it–because I’ve experienced it. (Okay, here’s an article that disagrees with me, but it is still worth reading.)

Here’s the deal, though. This weird state is one of my favorite states to be in. And that is because I feel like I’ve given everything I have to the page, let the words flow out of me so intensely that I’m totally spent.  It makes me feel like I am fulfilling my purpose as a writer.

Process, Not Product

And the key to achieving this state is…yeah, its pretty obvious, isn’t it? The key is focus.  I would take that even a step farther and submit that it is a certain kind of focus.  And that is the kind of focus wherein one is so caught up in the process that she is not worried about the product.

Not worried about what her family will think when her memoir is released.  Or how her agent will react after reading the manuscript. What the spouse will say. What the children will think. What the high-school friends from long-ago will think. How the first-grade teacher, long in the grave, will judge. I swear we let all these things and more stop us from doing what we really want: which is deeply engaging with the writing at hand.

The Inner Critic

And sometimes they congeal into one big, bad lump of an inner critic. Your worst enemy. The one who keeps you from writing. The one you listen to scream at you. The one you let stop you from all your dreams of creative freedom. Guess what, people? You’ve got three choices here: you can carry on as usual, letting he/she/it stop you, or you can tell it to shut the f$%# up and ignore it, or you can befriend it.  Either of the latter two will work.  Just don’t get stuck in the first option. Please. (I’ve written numerous times about dealing with this imp. You can read more here and here.)

Balance

Besides acknowledging and slaying dealing with your inner critic, I think it’s important to realize that this kind of exhausting and energizing state is not one we are going to be in all the time. I used to get into it more often when I was not a professional writer. Back when I was writing for fun, it was far easier to just have at it without worry about the end result. That is not quite so easy to do anymore when I know that people will be reading my blog, newsletter, or novels. This is one reason I write in my journal every more–crap that means nothing to anybody but me and will never be seen by anybody but me. It reminds me that this is my goal, always–to write freely and openly without worry about how the words will be judged.  And thus it is important to seek a balance between this wonderful free writing and the time when you are more slowly considering the word you are putting on the page. (And for the love of God, don’t confuse the exhilaration you feel after completing a first draft with the idea that means it is perfect. I see this happen far too often. Just because it was fun to write doesn’t mean it isn’t in need of more work.)

A Certain Kind of Exhaustion

But, oh how I love it when the words are flowing freely and I’m a mere shadow of my former self at the end of a writing session!  This kind of exhaustion is what we all aim for: the knowledge that we’ve given one of the most important things to us all we have in the moment. That is all we can ask for.

How does a good writing session make you feel?

Hey want to chat about your writing? Get some perspective? Sign up for one of my connection calls!

Starting (Or Restarting) a New Writing Project

Right out of the starting gate!

Ah, the excitement of beginning a new writing project.  The energy! The enthusiasm! The high hopes! This, you think, is going to be the best novel yet, the best essay, the best short story, the best article. You whip open your computer, open a new file, place you hands on the keyboard and….sit staring at the monitor.  The idea and the energy that swirled around it has dissipated.  Crap.  That’s when you decide the kitchen floor needs mopping or the chocolate in the cupboard needs eating. Or the couch needs you to take a nap on it.

The description above is often me. I am a big picture person and I love dreaming up new ideas.  Oh, the plans I have for novels, classes, non-fiction books, and programs scribbled in my journal. And yet few of them see the light of day. Part of that is because, well, time. There isn’t enough of it to do everything I want to do.  But part of it also is because its easy to scrawl some notes on a page and much harder to actually take those notes and shape them into something. Like a book.

But I have learned a thing or two about getting started over the years of writing several novels, a few short stories, numerous articles and ten years worth of blog posts. And so herewith, I offer you a few ideas:

  1.  Take the time to do some prep work.  It can be so thrilling to be in the thrall of a new idea for a writing project that you launch right into the writing.  And yeah, then about a few chapters in you get stalled because you have no idea what you’re doing.  I’m all for getting words on the page, but I do find it helpful to know at least some things about your story before you begin.  Things like characters, setting, theme (okay, that one often takes awhile to gel), and at least a vague idea of where the story is going to go.  By the by, last year I taught Mapping the Novel at the Sitka Center and I’m seriously considering teaching it online later this year. Email me if you’re interested and I’ll make sure you get info about it.
  2. Know your genre. Are you writing a romance, or a mystery or women’s fiction?  Maybe a thriller? There are certain conventions for each one that it behooves you to know.  And beyond that, knowing these conventions can help you when you’re trying to figure out the steps of the story.  In a romance, for instance, the hero and heroine have to meet. (Duh.) But that’s one of your most important scenes, right there! All you have to do is figure out the details.
  3. Do some free writing. I know, I know, I told you not to jump right onto the page. But free writing is different. It is writing about your project, brainstorming on the page.  I could not write anything without this process.  I write morning pages just about every day, and often they are devoted to figuring out the intricacies of whatever I’m working on.
  4. Expand your input.  Try some alternative approaches.  For instance, I’m reading a fabulous book called The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide for an Inspired Life.  It is all geared toward using tarot cards for your creativity, i.e. your next writing project. Author Jessa Crispin has designed spreads for finding inspiration, checking your direction, being blocked, and all kinds of things. Fun! And helpful. You might also try looking up your character’s birth date on an astrological chart for more insight, or research your setting on Google images or Google earth.
  5. Use the power of lists.  I can’t live without my lists, and I use them voraciously with my WIPs.  Often my plot outline is a simple list of upcoming scenes, but that’s enough to guide me. I make lists for what’s going to happen in a chapter or scene to clarify before I start writing.  And I make lists of things to remember. Constantly. There are a lot of moving parts to a novel.

Those are some of the ideas that help me.  What works for you?  Leave a comment!

And don’t forget that I’m offering free connection calls this month. Let’s chat about writing! You can sign up here.

Photo by David Paul Ohmer.

How Then, Shall We Jump Start Our Writing Goals for the New Year?

We’re coming up on two weeks into the new year. Ack! Wasn’t it just Christmas? Didn’t we just do Thanksgiving? Soon we’ll be talking about fireworks displays.  I’m still seeing a lot of posts about how to plan to make this your best year yet. I confess, I read almost every one.  Because I love me some planning, yes I do. And then of course there are the requisite posts about how you really shouldn’t plan or create new year’s resolutions because you’ll just fail at them anyway.

To which I say, pish-posh.  How are you supposed to get anything done if you don’t know what you need to do? So here we are two weeks in and I actually think it’s a good time to review your goals.  January is either all bright and shiny and new for you or it’s a terrible slog, but either way the luster might be off some of those goals.  But, the world needs your voice. You need your voice to be heard in the world. It works both ways.  So, herein are some thoughts for how to reconnect and move forward with those writing goals.  17 of them, in fact. Because…oh never mind. You get it.

  1. Write faster.  I’m putting together a….hmmm, what shall I call it? Book? Mini-book? Maybe report. I loved writing reports in school. I’m putting together a report on how to write faster and better and you can get it if you’re on my list (see sign-up to the right). It won’t be out until February so between now and then write as fast as you can. Because its better to get something on the page than nothing. So I say.
  2. Create an activation trigger for your goal.  This is a simple action that will make it easier for you to reach your goal. So, in my case, since I want to write first thing in the morning, an activation trigger would be to shut down all my inboxes and other distracting tabs the night before.  But let the all-mighty and wonderful Michael Hyatt explain it to you by going here.
  3. Clean up your crap.  Bwahahahahaha. That’s the sound of me laughing hysterically because my office is such a mess. And organizing it is the one thing I can’t seem to get myself to do. But sometimes I start to feel overwhelmed and look around and think, no wonder. I know I would be able to think better if my space were cleaner. And I also know that money likes to come where there’s room. So I’m working on it. How about you?
  4. Study. I love learning new things. And there are certain areas that I need to brush up on, for sure. Like marketing and money. So I’m setting aside time to study those topics this year.  Years ago I read a book that stated committing thirty minutes a day to a subject is enough to become expert in it. I’ve never forgotten that. Learning marketing will boost your book sales, so if that’s one of your goals, have at it.
  5. Quit worrying about what other people think.  You said yes to the PTA bake sale because you were afraid the other mothers would think you a slacker if you didn’t, but now baking cupcakes for 500 is going to take up your writing time? Stop doing shit like that.  Who cares what they think? We do, I know. It is one of the hardest things to get over.  But your writing is more important than your sister’s best friend’s cousin’s opinion of you (and this includes Facebook posting/jealous, too).
  6.  Don’t do crap you don’t want to do. Okay, into each life some rain must fall. We all have things that we don’t want to do. Like cook dinner when you’d rather be writing. Taking the garbage out when its snowing. Cutting back on wine because you want to lose some weight. (Oh and none of these items are autobiographical. Uh-uh, no way.) But we do make ourselves say yes to plenty of things we don’t want to do. Case in point: I just finished knitting a pink #pussyhat to wear at the Portland Women’s March.  The idea of this is to knit hats to keep the women marching in Washington warm and also create a great visual image. Everyone on Instagram is knitting one hat after another and I thought I would, too. But after casting mine off I realized I really don’t want to knit another one. Usually I’d force myself. Because, I have to be the most perfect activist ever! But I have no interest in knitting another one. (I get bored really easily.) So just today I gave myself permission not to knit another one.  More time for writing.
  7. Stop with the perfectionism. It doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve the people you love, either. Here’s a fun little exercise: force yourself to write one bad page. One really, terrible, horrible, very bad page.  There. Doesn’t that feel better?
  8. Find a planner or some kind of system that works for you. I’m old-school paper when it comes to this. Don’t bother sending me a Google calendar notification cuz I don’t use one.  It took me a long time, but I recently figured out the best calendar for me is daily calendar. I bought the daily planner from Danielle LaPorte (affiliate link) and I LOVE it. They sold out but are coming back in stock on January 15th. Highly recommended. (News flash addendum: I’ve used and recommended the Leonie Dawson Your Shining Year workbooks and planners in the past. She’s having a 50% off clearance sale at the moment. Go here, which is an affiliate link, to see.)
  9. Meditate. Quit your bitching and just do it. I get many of my best ideas during meditation sessions.
  10. Write morning pages. I know you don’t have time, but do it anyway. Gets all your crap out of your head and onto the page and is another place I get brilliant ideas. You know morning pages, don’t you? Popularized by Julia Cameron, they are three pages of long-hand stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning. Sometimes mine are shorter than three pages, sometimes longer. Doesn’t matter.
  11. Automate. I think we used to call this delegating. Whatever. Look at what stupid things are getting in the way of your writing and figure out a way to make someone else do them. Miniature adults, i.e., your children, are great for this. Make them set the table and do laundry, etc. Yeah, right. Hopefully yours will be better at this than mine were. Failing that, hire an assistant. Or at the very least, order your groceries online and go pick them up (or send your teenager who just got his license and loves to drive to do it). We live in a miraculous world, people. Take advantage of it.
  12. Hire a coach. I have my eyes set on two this year. One for writing and one for business. And, ahem, if you are a writer looking for one you could consider me. (If you would like to schedule a connection session to chat with me about it, just click here and you’re all set.)
  13. Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Gee, what a great title. Someone should use it for a book. Oh, never mind. But don’t worry about the stuff you can’t control, like the weather. We’re currently working on our fourth winter storm in a city that usually just gets rain. I get so distracted looking out the window, turning on the TV for news and so on. Dumb. Wasting precious time.
  14. Use things you love. For instance, I love writing with multi-colored pens.  The Pilot G-2 Gel Rollers come in a luscious array of colors and I use them on my planner and in my journals. A bit teenager-ish, but I don’t care. It’s fun.
  15. Read. Some writers don’t like to read when they’re writing, but I say, words in, words out. Reading inspires you, it instructs you and it teaches you. Read everything you can get your hands on and think how it relates to your writing.
  16. Get very clear about what you want with your writing.  Yeah, I know you’ve been figuring out goals and so forth, but are they shoulds or wants? This business we are in is not an easy one, and so I think you should do what makes you happy in it, not what someone else thinks you should be doing.  With all the things I do, I have to constantly remind myself that fiction comes first.
  17. Do we really need a #17? Kidding. Here it is: launch. That happens to be my word of the year, but I think it is apropos. Think of it as rising up or upleveling.  Because if ever there was a year to stand up and stand out and do your thing as fully and wholely as possible this is it.  Recalibrate your mindset so that you truly are going for it. Let’s do it together.

What are your writing goals for 2017 and how do you propose to help yourself reach them?  And seriously, I’d love to hear about your goals and your writing.  Let’s! Go here and schedule a time.

Photo by robchivers.

How to Write a Bestseller

I just finished reading a book that purports to share the secrets of writing a bestselling novel, and I found it fascinating. The BestSeller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel is by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers, and what it uses is text mining to uncover the shared elements of bestsellers.  As I understand it, text mining (in this instance) is essentially programming a computer to look for commonly shared elements of bestsellers.  The predictive algorithm the authors devised was proven to be right 80% of the time. Densely written, though also humorous in places, and a bit much to plow through (I would have really liked bullet point summaries at the end of each chapter), but thought-provoking.

Maybe you don’t have any desire to write a bestselling novel or memoir, which is fine. But some of these ideas might help you dream up kick-ass characters and write stronger prose. Take these ideas or leave them.  Some of them resonated with me while others kinda had me scratching my head. And remember, the points I mention are my interpretation of what I read. What jumped out and lands in my brain might be quite different for you.  I’ll go through each one:

Theme or topic

–The most prevalent topics of bestsellers were human closeness (i.e. love) and intimate conversation. Wait for it–it was actually these topics that predominated in Fifty Shades of Gray.  Not sex.  I swear to you this is what the book said.

–Bestsellers tended to stick to 2-3 main topics, while less successful books had more.

–Another particularly big topic was medical, as in characters suddenly having to go to the hospital which then results in human closeness as loved ones gather around. (My interpretation.)  This also goes along with what we’ll learn about cycles of emotion under plot.

Plot

–Far and away the most successful plot lines were those which featured a rhythmic beat of highs and lows. Lots of peaks and valleys of emotion. The book features many charts which showcase this.

–A clear three-act structure is most successful

Style

–The book tells the story of how J.K. Rowling was outed as Robert Galbraith, mystery writer. She changed her name, gender, genre, audience and plot. But she couldn’t change her stylistic blueprint and the computer found her out.

–Bestsellers use the word “the” more. I’m just reporting the news, folks.  At first I thought this was silly, but then I wondered if it might be because of more specificity? And, as we know, the devil is in the details.

–The first sentences of bestsellers start with action or definite thought. And they just about always contain conflict of some sort.

–An understanding of everyday knowledge is essential if you want to write a bestseller.

Character

–Bestsellers feature strong characters with agency.  “They have some version of power, motivation, drive.”

–Characters in bestsellers do things! They express their needs and they have lots of them. (Need was the verb most linked to a likelihood to be a bestseller.) They also want things and they make their wants clear.

–“Readers want someone to be not to seem.”

–“Hesitation doesn’t keep the pages turning.”

–Characters in bestsellers have something magnetic that makes them stand out. They are gifted in some way, or they’ve done things others haven’t.

Fascinating, no?  The book goes into all these aspects in depth and is worth a read if you are so inclined to like dissecting things.  I’m not sure it’s possible or even desirable to plug in all these variables and come up with a bestselling novel.  But reading these ideas made me realize that sometimes my characters tend toward the passive and that I need to make them stronger.  I love the idea that the topics of human closeness and intimate conversation come up tops–those fit right into my genres of women’s fiction and romance.  I love writing stuff like that, and now I know there’s no reason to hold back on it.  The book has also encouraged me to go for more distinctive highs and lows of emotion.

What do you think of all this? Do you think it is possible to plug in a set of variables and come up with a bestseller? Or is the whole thing a really bad idea?

PS. There’s a book club dedicated to reading the top 100 books picked by this computer model. You can find out about it here.

PPS. I’ve actually got some room on my coaching roster at the moment.  Want to make 2017 the year you actually write that book? Maybe you’d like to finish the novel you’re working on and get it published? Or perhaps you just want to start a satisfying personal writing practice. I can guide you through any of these and more. I’m revamping my coaching page and packages, so if you’re interested, just pop me an email at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com. Put Coaching in the subject line so the email doesn’t get buried!