writing programs

A Novel-Writing Vision Board



I'm in the midst of a marketing program given by Christine Kane, and she talks some in it about vision boards.  A blog post that she did on creating vision boards comes up first when you do a google search for the words, which is some strong google juju, let me tell you. So she knows vision boards.  And I envy admire her for this.

But then I realized that I know vision boards, only of a different sort.  Of the fiction sort.  And all this got me to thinking that I've never told you about my own version of vision boards, which will make me feel better about myself and not quite so envious.

So now I'm going to.

What I like to do is create a vision board for a novel (or other book) that I'm going to write. I learned this during the first residency of my MFA, as I sat discussing my future novel with my new mentor, Melissa Pritchard, she who I also admired slavishly the entire two years of the program.  She told me about the joys–and benefits–of creating a vision board for a novel. How creating a place to collect visual images and written words that had to do with the story could be incredibly inspiring.  This became my first assignment.  I was to create a vision board for the novel I wanted to write and write an essay about the process, an assignment I relished and could hardly wait to begin.

So I went to Office Depot and bought two of their inexpensive posterboard triptychs.  Since my novel was set in two locations, and location was so important to the novel as to practically become a character in it, I reasoned I needed two vision boards.  One was for the Portland portion and the other for the Santa Fe portion.  I put on these boards images of the two very different places that inspired me: fir trees and gray skies for the Portland portion, and dramatic vistas and vast skies for the New Mexico version.  I made lists of characters and timelines and tacked them up, as well as photos of people who might look like characters in the novel.  Any time I found an image in a magazine or a postcard or anything that inspired me, I added it to the vision board.  Any time I needed a written reminder of something over and over again, I made a note of it and added it to my vision board.

These two vision boards were my constant companions as I wrote the novel over the next couple of years.  I had them propped on my desk and I'd switch them out according to which part of the novel I was working on at the time.  When I finally set the novel aside, I folded up the vision boards and put them in my closet, where, as far as I know, they remain to this day.  That novel never did get published, though I learned an enormous amount writing it.  And every time I think about writing it, I think about those vision boards and how important they were to me and the writing.

Fast forward a couple years to the writing of Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  The idea for that novel, and the main character's voice, came to me in such a rush that I never had time to make a vision board.  It was all I could do to get Emma Jean's insistent voice down on paper.  But now that EJ is making her way in the publishing world and I have an idea for another novel, I'm pondering the vision board idea again.  I'm such a visual person that I surrounding myself with imagery relating to the book truly inspires me.  So once I get back to Portland, I think a trip to Office Depot is in order.

How about you?  Do you have any experience with a novel-writing vision board?

***Yes, I know my blogging schedule is completely wonky.   And that I have not posted anything on Writing Abundance this week.  I'm hit what I calculate to be Phase Four of this lengthy sojourn away from home today, and it is the most intensive and stressful–the Writer's Loft orientation.  Things will get back to normal next week, when I'm on retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains and have more time to write.

Photo by Jono Rotten, from Flickr, via Everystockphoto.

The Writer’s Loft at MTSU

The Writer's Loft at MTSU.

That, my friends, is a link to the awesome video that Janet Wallace just made for the Writer's Loft.  (Check out her blog post that also features the video.)

I haven't written about the Writer's Loft
in quite awhile.  The Writer's Loft is the distance writing program I
co-direct in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (for those of you not from the
area, Murfreesboro is about half an hour away from Nashville, the home
of MTSU, the largest university in Tennessee, which is where our program is housed).

Loft is a three semester certificate program in which you work
one-on-one with a supportive mentor, who not only reads your work, but
recommends books to read and helps to guide your course of study.  As
I've noted in this space repeatedly before, there really is no better
way to improve your writing skills.  Working one-on-one with a mentor
allows you time at home to write while still getting focused
instruction.  Our program is modeled on the brief-residency MFA
programs that have become so popular, although, as our founder, Roy Burkhead says, the Loft is an "MFA lite" program.

can sign up for the Loft and complete all three semesters and earn a
certificate in writing.  Or, you can take one semester if you need a
jump-start on a writing project, or perhaps need guidance to finish
something.  You can join the Loft and just continue to sign up,
semester after semester, which is what several of our students have
done.  They refuse to graduate and we love them for it!

There's been a lot going on in with the Loft lately.  My original co-director, Terry Price, has decided to spend more time on his writing and is now Director Emeritus.  I am pleased and proud to announce that Rabbi Rami Shapiro has stepped up to become my new co-director.  Rami and I have worked together at the Room to Write retreats and Path and Pen workshops.

I've written more about the Loft here,
and you can learn lots more about it by going to our website.  For
anybody in the area, or even close, think about heading to the MTSU
campus on September 17, when we feature workshops that our open to the
public.  This semester Whitney Ferre of Creatively Fit and Kathy Rhodes of the journal Muscadine Lines
will be doing workshops for us.  The price is $50, and you'll not only
have the benefit of the fabulous workshops, you'll get to meet
wonderful writers, including moi.  C'mon, I'd love to meet you in

And, of course, if you want any more info, just email
me.  My address is at the top of this page.  (Top left, I think.  I've
been rearranging things.) By the way, Janet Wallace, who made the video, is our new marketing expert.  She specializes in helping writers, authors, and other creative types with their marketing and social media.  Check out her blog here.

A Successful Writing Life

Last week at the Fall Writer's Loft orientation, we held a panel on The Writing Life.  I moderated, and mentors Bill Brown, David Pierce, and Linda Busby Parker participated.  It was a freewheeling and wide-ranging discussion, as I'd hoped.  Since I was moderating, I scribbled notes, just in case the conversation lagged and I needed to get it going again.  That didn't happen, but looking back over my notes gives some idea of what all we covered:

  • Finding a balance between making a living and writing
  • Tips on just doing it
  • The value of getting into the flow of writing 1,000 words a day, no matter what
  • "Stay with it" momentum (see above)
  • Handling rejection
  • Pointing yourself in a specific direction
  • Switch it up–try non-fiction if you mostly write fiction, etc.
  • The pressure to write a blog and keep up with twitter and social media
  • The best writer's conferences and events
  • How to use prompts
  • And we covered all this in 45 minutes…

After I got back home to the lovely (and hot) PDX, I started pondering the writing life anew.  I didn't talk much at the panel, as it was not intended to be about me.  But many people have expressed interest in the writing life that I have created for myself.  While I don't yet make buckets of money and I'm not a household name, I do have a satisfying life that I love.  It gives me tons of freedom and independence, which are two of my most important personal values.  I can pretty much do what I want when I want, though let us not forget I earn this right by being slavishly devoted to my clients and their deadlines. (Just so you don't think I'm a slacker all the time.)

Anyway, I started thinking about some of the things I've done to create myself a writing life and came up with the following:

1.  Decide what kind of writing life you want.  Do you want to pick a job that doesn't require you give it your heart and soul, and thus frees your emotional energy for writing?  Or do you want a job that is in writing or a related field?  Obviously, I chose the latter and I like it because the more I write, the better I get.  All of the various kinds of writing that I do–ghostwriting, copywriting, blogging, fiction, critiquing–enhance each other.

2.  If you do choose the full-time writing life, be willing to do anything (well, within reason).  Like most free-lancers, I wear many hats, and I like some of these hats lots better than others.  But that doesn't mean I turn down the things that aren't as much fun.  For me, its all writing, and I still get a thrill from even the dullest of jobs.  I had no idea that ghostwriting could be such a fun and lucrative gig, until I did my first assignment, which I got nearly by accident.  So keep your mind and your options open.

3.  Be willing to take low-paying jobs at first.  You need experience.  You need clips.  Work for free or a pittance if you have to at first.  I got paid a miserable wage in my first years as a writer, but I was able to up my fees quickly once I mastered the various genres and had the clips to prove it.

4.  Broaden your physical horizons.  We're a global community now.  Many of my ghostwriting clients are in LA, and my students in Nashville.  Doesn't matter–we've got this thing called the internet that allows us to communicate instantly.  Don't reject jobs because they are in other locations.  Besides, one of the best parts of my job is the fact that I get to travel to places I love.

I'm sure I've got more advice in me, but the workers who are doing God only knows what at the house around the corner are so noisy they've got my brain scrambled.  So, since I don't have to report to anybody but myself (did I mention that as a huge benefit?)  I'm taking my freedom and heading to New Seasons.

PS.  Read more about the Loft orientation at Linda's blog, right here.

I Confess

I cannot tell a lie, because you have no doubt noticed, but I am a blogging slacker.

Two weeks ago I headed to Nashville for the Writer's Loft fall orientation.   This was a big to-do because it was the first actual orientation that my partner Terry and I planned since we took over the program.  And, I am happy to report, it was a rip-roaring success.

So much so that I got completely re-inspired to work on my novel again.  Not just working on it, but working working on it, if you know what I mean–keeping the file open on my computer, working on it every spare moment, obsessing about it all the other moments, stealing time from paying work.  That kind of working on it, which I love because its been too long since I've been in this space.

To my credit, there has been guilt.  Lots of it.  So much that it finally drove me to cautiously log onto my Typepad account.  So here I am.  I've not gone anywhere, just deeply into the novel.

Here's the good news–I took copious notes while sitting in the workshops and lectures that inspired me so much and my plan is to write blog posts about what I learned.  Um, never mind that that has been my plan for the past week, since I returned home.  I'm going to do it.  I wrote this post, didn't I? 

I also have a pile of reviews to post on my companion site, Bookstrumpet.  So stayed tuned, there is much more to come.  Really.  Trust me.  I promise.

And now excuse while I go look at what I wrote this afternoon on my novel.

Oh, one more thing–I was having some computer issues last week.  Like big ones.  Like my beloved Vaio melting down type problems.  Its okay for the moment, but I'm in the market for a new one.   I'm so tempted by the Macbook.  So very, very tempted.  I've resisted the whole Apple cult for years and now I feel it ensnaring me.  Help me, PC users! Not a big fan of Dells, but I've loved my Vaio.  I would like it to be less than astronomically expensive.  So if anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear it.  Has to be a laptop–it goes with me wherever I go.

Writer’s Loft Orientation Next Weekend

Yesterday I cleverly wrote a post on my new Centro phone and sent it to be published on Typepad from my backyard.  I know this is old news for those of you who have had Blackberries and Iphones for ever, but it is a major step forward for me.  I'm on the road to LA and Nashville a lot, and now, should I find myself without and internet connection, or stuck in an airport, I can check email, work on documents and even write a blog post. 

Another way to feed my internet addiction, just what I've needed.

I've been working on figuring out this phone because I'm heading off to Nashville on Tuesday.  Next weekend is the two-day orientation for the Writer's Loft, the program I co-direct with Terry Price.

The Writer's Loft is a certificate writing program that features one-on-one writing instruction that is based at Middle Tennessee State University.   Students write original work and critical essays based on their reading, and their mentors critique this work in a structured, supportive atmosphere.  You can read a lot more about it on my page about the program here.

This fall, we're doing something a little different and that is opening up the Friday portion of the orientation to non-students for the low cost of $50.  That morning, novelist Darnell Arnoult will be lecturing on, "Writing Out of Chaos, Or, How To Write a Better Story Than You Know," and in the afternoon poet Bill Brown will be presenting a workshop called, "Finding Your Pivotal Moments, Real and Imagined." 

Anyone who lives in the Nashville area and is interested in writing ought to seriously consider checking it out.  You can register directly on the website and read all about the program there, too.

I'm hoping to bring you live reports from the scene, as they say, or at least check in after the events of the day are over to bring you nuggets of writing information.  Stay tuned.