How has history impacted your work? Has it slipped into your created worlds? Has it inspired the people who inhabit them? If we fall too deeply down this well of thought it becomes impossible to separate the influences of history… Continue reading
Stephen King shows how he came to be a writer. King weaves life lessons with writing lessons. Three women met today in downtown Cobourg to discuss King’s book and his writing wisdom.
On Writing is one of my favourite writing books of all time. King inspires me to have faith, to keep focused, to lead a literary life.
I have read the book a number of times over the years. This month I downloaded the audio version and listened to it as I drove to and from work. Hearing King read On Writing was awesome!
Truly. Continue reading
Some say write what you know. Others say write what you are interested in and go out and know it. Last week I visited Archives Canada to do some family history research (that also serves as the inspiration for my next big writing project about Leilah).
My approach to research is like my approach to writing: go to where the energy burns brightest. I did not have a plan. I had a thick file holding three years of research notes, an iPad, and some blank paper. Generally, I wanted to know more about the Metis, the Voyageurs, lighthouses, and my family.
When we arrived at Archives Canada we had to sign-up for a Library Card. This process was easy–some photo ID, a computerized form, and a signature. Once our cards were ready we signed in at the security desk and received a key for a locker. It is helpful to read all the information on the Archives Canada website, Preparing for a Visit. Continue reading
When your project is ready, it is time to find it an audience. This is the part of the process where I often get stuck. The process moves from creating to selling. Some writers find the business side of writing to be a drag. Sending out your manuscript to an agent or a publisher takes planning and preparation. It takes time and perseverence.
Some writers are experts at submitting manuscripts. This group of writers sends out daily query letters, weekly follow-ups, frequent pushes at the industry until they find their work a home. They tend to get more work published than the first group.
What is your relationship with the publishing process? Have you found homes for your work? How much time do you give to the business of writing?
So, imagine you have finished writing your debut novel. First, format the manuscript to industry standard. Find an agent. Find a market for your work. Send query letters to publishers. It seems simple but it is a process that eludes me consistently. I need to develop more patience for the business of writing.
Agents help support the business side of writing. According to my research, agents will take 15% from the sale for placing the book with a publisher, negotiating a contract, and in some cases, providing editorial advice.
In the book industry, sales do not indicate reading. Someone may buy the book and never read it. Or, someone may buy the book, read the book, and then share the book with a dozen friends. Continue reading
My writing process begins simply. I get an idea. I think about it for a while. I try the idea out on the page. If I like the direction it is going in I continue to write until I am done. A first draft of a major story introduces characters and setting, establishes major plot developments, and explores the elements of a compelling story. A first draft of a poem introduces the metaphor or story, establishes a general sense of form, and explores poetic devices. Phase two of my writing process is to revise.
How do you revise a writing project for meaning? How do you intensify empathy? What roles do values play in writing? What benefits are there for explicitly understanding the moral and ethical dimensions of your work?
Some of the greatest stories of all time connect to our sense of justice, reveal the complexity of human nature, and pose moral dilemmas for characters. Through reading and writing we can learn more about what it means to be human.
Have you ever considered the moral development of your characters? If you were to place your protagonist on Kohlberg’s scale where would s/he sit? Do the events of the story ignite a quest that leads to a change in your character’s morality? (Consider Sophie’s Choice). Does your character remain steadfast in the face of adversity? (Consider A Man for All Seasons). Or does your story offer characters with contrasting moral compasses? (Consider To Kill a Mockingbird)
Review the stages of development below and consider how the characters you are working with fit. How can you use Kohlberg’s theory in your work to connect to universal human truths? Continue reading
Here is today’s audio introduction:
Stories are about people. Characters create plot. Aristotle suggested that story is most important, characters are second. In the 20th Century the widespread belief of writers was that character was everything. Today, in the 21st Century, we understand that character and plot are both story. One cannot be more important than the other.
True character can only be revealed through choice under pressure. The structure (plot) should provide pressure to reveal the character. As writers we must understand the gap between what a character thinks will happen and that which really happens—this is where story is created. When the gap opens we feel empathy for the character. If you listen to your characters they will tell you what their deepest desires are, and you will understand what they are trying to get in the story and what is standing in their way. (My guess is that this section of notes is from Robert McKee. I have attended numerous workshops and read many books over the last decade and this post is a culmination of my notes. I apologize for not keeping better track of my sources.)
I like characters who bare their souls, who exhibit self-awareness. I like it when a writer positions a character in close relationships, when the stakes are high, when a character is forced to act because their family and friends matter. Writers reveal character through description, actions by the character, what the character says, what others say about the character, and/or what the author speaking as a storyteller or observer presents about the character.
The protagonist is the engine of the story. S/he needs to want or need something. The protagonist may be sympathetic but it is more important that s/he is empathetic. Readers often connect to the protagonist through a sense of shared humanity.
Round characters undergo change. Round characters are full, life-like, memorable, dynamic. Round characters recognize, change, and adjust to circumstances. This can be shown through action, the realization of a new strength and therefore the affirmation of previous decisions, the acceptance of a new condition and the need for making changes, and/or the discovery of unrecognized truths. Round characters are often the hero or heroine, the protagonist, the antagonist.
Flat characters stay the same. Flat characters do not grow. They are static. Flat characters remain the same throughout the story. They are often stock characters, stereotypes.
To connect to readers characters should show verisimilitude, probability, and plausibility. A character’s state of being should be probable or likely for the world you are creating. Readers should agree that the action of a character is possible for that character. The challenge for the writer is showing a sense of possibility without ruining a sense of surprise. The reader needs to believe the character to be true. The writer needs to use realism even in fictional worlds. For example, in the movie “Avatar” viewers knew the Avatars were fictional but within the world of the movie viewers were able to suspend their disbelief and catch glimmers of humanity in non-human characters. Continue reading
A writer-friend of mine once posted on her Facebook status that she had to read the whole Internet before she started writing. I know my friend used hyperbole to explain her procrastination ritual that day, but let’s just look at Wikipedia. It has more than 8 billion words in 19 million articles in approximately 270 languages.
The Internet plays the part of writer’s hero and writer’s super villain. Social media, blogging, online news, and general searches provide writers with many possibilities. Even as I write this post my fingers find their way to a search engine. Magically, lists of links appear:
- Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block
- Writer’s Block Magazine
- Symptoms and Cures for Writer’s Block
Then there are songs, movies, books, blogs, sites, articles, images. There are 19,100,000 results in Google in a search for “writer’s block.” Clearly, heaps of writers are afflicted by “the block.” Can we not find better ways to spend our time than reading (or writing) about this pesky demon?
Curious to learn more about what Google knows about our world today I tried a few other keyword searches:
- Bankruptcy: 142 million results
- Love: over 8 billion results
- Creativity: 206 million results
- Fun: over 3 billion results
- Justin Bieber: 556 million results
- World Peace: over 18 million results
- Writing: over 1 million results
There are 18 million more results for “writer’s block” than for “writing”? More results for a phrase about not writing than getting the writing done. It is fair to claim that writing about writer’s block is a tired cliche. And yet here we are. We can be sure of three things in life: death, taxes, and writer’s block. (This is my attempt at hyperbole).
Writer’s block is an excuse. It does not exist. It is not real. Looking at the body of work produced by writers and artists in the past shows that Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Whitman would not have had time for writer’s block.
When asked about writer’s block, J.K. Rowling said in a BBC interview: “No! I just produced a quarter of a million words. It’s quite hard to do with writer’s block.”
Just as athletes learn how to work through or around muscle cramps, writers must learn how to respond when they think they are blocked. Continue reading
To conclude unit one we will explore the nature of learning. What is learning? How do you define learning? How do you know if you are learning? Is there a difference between the act of learning to write and the act of writing?
For the last fifteen years I have been learning to write and I have been writing. Learning moves through our lives like a spiral. Learning winds its way through our subconscious. Learning spins our thoughts in different directions. Learning tiptoes up the spiral staircase of our beings or flies up into the gravitational pull of a life-changing twister. Learning happens whether we are aware of it or not.
Mary Catherine Bateson introduced me to the idea of learning as a spiral. In Peripheral Visions, Bateson demonstrates how learning moves through themes. We move through lessons, we pick up from them what we need, we move on, and then loop back to the theme in another ring of the spiral to deepen our learning. Continue reading
Where do you feel most inspired? Is inspiration connected to place?
Here is today’s audio clip:
The Creative Mind, Lesson 6
How do the spaces we use for creative work affect us? Do our environments inspire us? Or is inspiration a state of mind that is not grounded in place? Where do you do your best writing? Continue reading