July 20th, 2018

Confessions of a Writing Workshop Addict

Amy Sue Nathan

Twelve years ago, right in the middle of a memoir writing workshop online, I started writing fiction instead. From that day forward, I continued doing two things: writing novels, and signing up for online writing workshops. The comfort of taking a class while wearing my pajamas appeals to me almost as much as the bottomless bowl of popcorn by my side.

This started off innocently enough. I had been a journalist. I had articles and essays published. In these arenas I wrote the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It was that memoir workshop where I realized I wasn’t willing to write anyone’s story but my own. Memoirs contain anecdotes and storylines about other people. Without that, my book would have been thin and flimsy and unpublishable. And that’s what I wanted. To be published. The only way to give heft to the story I wanted to tell was to take myself out of it and make stuff up.  

I didn’t discriminate much when it came to workshops. Anything would do. Anything could help. I found workshops that focused narrowly on things like dialogue and structure, to workshops that offered broad strokes of knowledge on writing and publishing. All I needed was someone who knew more than me, and that was everyone.

An equal opportunity addict, I signed up for workshops by reputable companies and well-known authors, as well as bloggers who simply “seemed” to know what they were talking about. One of the best things I did was not limit myself to my genre. Thriller writers and romance writers were welcoming and flexible when helping me modify some content to fit the women’s fiction genre.  

Tip #1: Look outside your genre box for workshops, or even for writing books. There’s always something to learn from other writers who are masters of their craft. No matter what they write.

With time I found that workshops differed in two major ways. Some provided lessons and posted “homework assignments” and I received feedback from the instructor only, while some are structured so that the workshop participants posted their homework and the class chimed in with feedback of its own. I was always open to having as many writers cooking in my story kitchen as possible. Sometimes the feedback was relevant, sometimes it wasn’t, but even that showed me I was started to grow my writing spine. As I was starting to know myself as a writer, I became more confident in discerning which feedback worked for me or didn’t. And more importantly, why.

Tip #2: Do the homework. Sometimes I’d be in a workshop with ten or twelve writers and only two of us would do the assignments. Can you say extra attention from the instructor?

As I moved forward with my writing, I looked for genre specific workshops, or ones tailored to a struggle I was having with a work-in-progress. I found workshops on countless methods of storytelling and outlining, from three acts to five acts, from timelines to snowflakes. I have taken workshops on how to write flashbacks and others on how not to write flashbacks, on happy endings and tragic ones.

Tip #3: When it comes to any workshops, feedback, or conflicting ideas, take what you need and leave the rest.

You might think I stopped signing up for workshops when I found an agent or had novels published. No way. Accountability and camaraderie inspire me. Meeting new writers intrigues me.  Reading and giving feedback challenges me.  I always say I’m a workshop junkie. I’m always Googling different topics to see where and how I can learn something new or strengthen a skill.

The thing that did happen after my first novel was published, I was given the opportunity to teach workshops. Not only did I begin to help and connect with writers near and far, of all backgrounds and ages and interests,  but –you guessed it—I had access to the workshop materials! For me! Two birds, one workshop.

Tip #4: Being a writer is a never-ending learning process. It can be a solitary endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

Do you take workshops? which kind? Any tips/recommendations?

 

Amy Sue Nathan is the author of Left to Chance, The Good Neighbor, and The Glass Wives all published by St. Martins Press. She is also the founder of The Women’s Fiction Writers blog, named a Best Website for Writers four years in a row by Writer’s Digest. Amy’s essays and articles have been widely published in print and online, including The Chicago Tribune, Writer’s Digest, Psychology Today, YourTango and Huffington Post. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter, a member of Tall Poppy Writers, and has been a freelance book coach and editor since 2009.

Amy lives near Philadelphia, is the mom of two grown children, and the servant to one geriatric dog. When she’s not taking workshops (and even when she is) she’s working on her fourth novel.  

You can connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram where she’s @AmySueNathan (clever, right?),  her website, AmySueNathan.com, and her blog, WomensFictionWriters.com.

 

 

July 18th, 2018

How To Use Deep Point Of View Without Tying An Anchor To The Pace Of Your Novel

Lisa Hall Wilson

             

 

Deep point of view is a great writing technique when used well, but if you’re not careful, deep POV will bloat your word count and tie an anchor to the pace of your story.

Pace Must Be Strategic

I’ve met very few bestselling authors who, when asked, can’t tell you the pace they were intentionally aiming for with any particular novel. Whether your intent is to create a fast-paced action-packed crime novel or thriller, a slower-paced romance or contemplative literary novel, or something in between, this is an intentional choice (aka not a happy accident). Some writers use deep POV strategically in key scenes and others use deep POV throughout their whole novel. If you’re using deep POV throughout your whole novel, lean in. These tips are for you.

Avoid Writing On The Nose

Technically in deep POV, you would capture each moment and thought in a play-by-play sort of action.

Shane shuffled across the foyer and reached for the brass knob. The cold metal echoed the frosty temperatures outside. He turned the knob and pulled open the door. The metal hinges creaked and groaned…

Unless there’s a reason to stay in deep POV there, it’s OK if Shane just opens the door. If you spend this much time describing your character opening a door (slowing the pace), there had better be something important behind that door. The more time you spend describing something, the more importance a reader will assume it to have.

Sometimes your character just opens the door, goes to work, drives across town, or jets across the globe. If that journey isn’t important to the plot, if nothing happens in that journey to move the story ahead, using a shallower POV is appropriate.

Create An Effect Of Time Flying By

We’ve all had this happen in real life. We’re busy doing something and we’re surprised by how much time has gone by. This can and should happen to our characters from time to time as well. When you break down how this happens though, it’s usually because we’re distracted or intensely focused. Usually we want these scenes to have a quick pace, so the way to capture this (without using telling) is to use a shallower POV.

Consider a woman flying through the house doing a last-minute speed clean before company arrives. You might choose to write that scene in a more distant or shallow POV (stripped of internal dialogue) to show how little thought she’s putting into each specific task. Or, perhaps have her focus instead on the ticking hands of the clock instead of cataloguing every item she’s putting away or dish she’s washing. Maybe her stomach growls, someone comes home, whatever—something happens to crack her focus and make her aware of the time again.

Capturing High Emotions

When your whole novel is in deep POV, using a shallower POV for high emotion scenes can force the reader to lean in more. It’s the change, the surprise, in the writing style that causes the tension for readers. Whether you’re trying to create an out-of-body effect, numbing effect, or a mind unable to process all the data they’re taking in (articulate what they’re feeling), using a shallower POV can show this very effectively.

For instance, someone who’s been seriously injured will repeat the same phrase over and over focusing on whatever hurts. They’ll chant: my arm hurts, my arm hurts, my arm hurts. They may not be able to say much else in the moment because all they’re aware of is the pain. Use a shallower point of view to show this without writing pages of the same phrase.

My sister-in-law was hit by a car while riding her bike and broke her femur. Ouch. After the accident, she could recall hearing someone moaning and crying and she thought to herself man, that’s annoying. Who is making all that noise? And then she realized she was the one making all the noise. These kinds of out-of-body thoughts read as shallow POVs often because they’re devoid of emotion, but can help keep the pace moving in moments of high trauma or emotion.

Here’s an example from my current WIP. This is a moment of high emotional trauma, so the shallower POV comes through because of the lack of internal dialogue. She’s just overwhelmed with emotion, she’s not processing any of it.

Her father’s lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling, his mouth gaped as if he’d died mid-scream. She coughed and sputtered like she’d been punched in the gut. Her hand covered her mouth and she dropped to her knees. Crawling the short distance, she reached for the box and then withdrew her fingers. There was no mistaking Wyne’s features. But that wasn’t her father anymore. Her fingers trembled and tears blurred her vision. She shut the box. How had this happened?

I wanted to give the sense that she’s overwhelmed, emotional overload. She hasn’t taken a moment to process what all of this means. And what’s the one question that floats to the top of the mental chaos? How had this happened? This is the only paragraph in this scene where I’ve used a shallower point of view, those leading up and following this bit are in deep point of view. You can switch back and forth for effect quickly.

To add more internal dialogue here (to stay deep) would’ve slowed the pace. I wanted to convey a sense that she was being battered with one emotion after another without time to process any of them, each one intensifying her horror. To keep this part of the scene truly in deep point of view could’ve worked but I was going for a specific effect.

Think Like An Artist

I love crafts like knitting and quilting. I’m a bit of a Pinterest junkie, but I’m not an artist. An artist creates the patterns, a hobbyist follows the patterns. I haven’t been prescriptive here because these kinds of choices are more art than pattern. Know the WHY of your scene (read about that here) and the primary emotions powering your character, and then choose the best technique to create the effect you want.

Choosing to stay close in moments of high emotional tension or zoom out to a shallower point of view are stylistic choices that affect the emotional arc of your story and the pacing. Both techniques may work equally well in any given scene, but what effect, what pace, what feeling, are you trying to capture for readers? The answers to those questions guide your stylistic choices.

Have you used shifting from deep to shallow POV to affect your pacing? Will you, after reading this?

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About Lisa: 

Lisa Hall-WilsonLisa Hall-Wilson was a national award-winning freelance journalist and author who loves mentoring writers. Fascinated by history, fantasy, romance, and faith, Lisa blends those passions into historical and historical-fantasy novels.

Find Lisa’s blog, Beyond Basics for intermediate writers,  at www.lisahallwilson.com.

 

Be sure to check out my new release Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers available as an ebook or print from Amazon.

July 16th, 2018

Build Creative Muscles – Through PLAY!

Christina Delay

A couple of weeks ago, I filmed a video interview with my six-year-old daughter on one of the elements of creativity: play.

She’s kind of an expert on play. Most kids are, but she had some really fantastic and insightful points about how adults need to relearn how to play. You can watch the full video on YouTube or over on the Creative Wellness Retreats blog, but today, I wanted to explore something she said that really hit me hard.

You can’t go back to kids again.

As her mother, let me translate: You can’t go back to being a kid again.

And yet, as writers, we use one of the biggest tools that a kid has at their disposal: our imaginations. Imaginative play has been proven to be one of the building blocks of not just creativity, but also the understanding that our thoughts differ from other people’s thoughts, overall social and language development, the ability to express and work through difficult emotions, physical development, and a higher level of problem solving.

Think about that.

Imaginative play is the building block of being a successful adult. And as writers who are deeply involved in creative work, shouldn’t we still be involved in imaginative play?

Imaginative play as an adult.

My daughter had a good point. You can’t go back to being a kid again. But you can go back to diving deep into pretend worlds and made-up characters and…wait!

We already do that.

But…I do wonder how much of our writing is surface work and how much is deep work. If you were to allow yourself to go deep into a daydream that existed in your story’s world, what would happen to your writing? If you became less concerned about sentence structure, power words, scene and sequels, story beats, etc., (which can be taken care of during editing) and just fell into your own story, do you think you’d be able to write a deeper story?

Without an imagination, kids have a hard time playing and creating. Without playing and creating, it’s hard to build a strong imagination.

So why have most of us adults given up playfulness in our lives?

Take a play break.

If you’re feeling burned out in your work, if you are tired, if you don’t feel joy in your writing, or maybe you’ve just hit a block, take a play break.

Take twenty minutes to free draw, use crayons or colored pencils and color a picture, go work on a puzzle or skip around the house. Turn on some of your favorite music and dance. Like Phoebe-from-FRIENDS dancing, totally uncoordinated, who-cares-who’s-watching dancing. Figure out a way to have fun again and play with your creativity.

Creative play builds creative muscles which leads to strength. Stronger stories, stronger characters, stronger reader impressions. A stronger creative life.

I want that.

We can’t go back to kids again. But we can relearn how to play.

What do you think, WITS readers?  What do you do to play?

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About Christina Delay

Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and the brand new Creative Wellness Retreats as well as an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she’s not cruising the Caribbean, she’s dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on giving into the demands of imaginary people to tell their stories.

About Creative Wellness Retreats

Creative Wellness Retreats exist to teach you practical tools to go deeper into your creativity and learn how to protect yourself from burnout and creative blocking. If you’re already in burn out mode, our retreats for authors and artists will offer channels for healing your creativity, using effective techniques that are driven by your MBTI type.

Join us on beautiful Whidbey Island next April for a one-of-a-kind creative wellness experience.

About Cruising Writers

Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world.

Cruise with us to Grand Cayman this October with Kristen Lamb (Bestselling Author and Marketing Jedi), Rachel Caine (Bestselling Author of 50+ books), Deidre Knight (The Knight Agency), and Alex Sehulster (St. Martin’s Press).

Or get ready to Dive Deep and join us on a 7-day Immersion Cruise with Margie Lawson this December to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel!

July 13th, 2018

4 Ways to Benefit from a Conference You’re Not Attending

It’s nothing personal against Coloradans, but I’ve started to sigh heavily when I hear this one word: Denver. For those of you with many friends in the Romance Writers of America, you know what I’m talking about. Next week, thousands of writers will descend on Denver, Colorado for the RWA annual conference — the one I was planning to go to, until I discovered the date conflicted with a previous family engagement.

Alas, the answer to “Will you be in Denver, Julie?” is a decided “No.” Followed by that sigh.

Not This Year…

And it’s not just RWA. Other summer conferences include ThrillerFest, Killer Nashville, Writers’ Digest, Writers Police Academy, and more. It’s summer conference season, and if you’re not going to any of them, you can start to feel left out. Like everyone else is attending the Cool Kids Party while you’re stuck at home staring at blank screens and wishing your book would write itself.

Or maybe I just informed some of you that it’s summer conference season, and now you’re feeling crappy about it when you hadn’t before. Sorry about that. If it helps, I give you permission to get some Ben & Jerry’s therapy.

But is there something—besides a pint of ice cream—you can you do about this Left Out feeling? How can you also benefit from all those other writers going to conferences you won’t be attending?

1. Stay connected on social media.

You might be surprised how much advice gets shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other forums. There’s a lot of insight to be gained by simply reading what attendees share. Most conferences have a hashtag you can follow to stay in the loop. Figure out which ones you’re interested in, then track the hashtags and see what’s being said.

Feel free to ask follow-up questions if a presenter’s insight is shared and you want to know more. Yes, it won’t be the same as being in the workshop, but you can get some golden nuggets of wisdom just by tuning into those social media channels connected to the conference.

2. Ask friends to share what they learned.

Most people love sharing what they’re learning, so find friends who are attending those conferences and ask them what they gained. When they return, you can go at this several ways — from taking a friend to lunch and letting them spill what they learned, to asking someone for notes from a specific workshop you’re interested in, to simply opening up a conversation with a group about the conference.

Your local writing group could also have a debriefing from those who attended a conference, so they can spread the wisdom they gleaned. If your group isn’t amenable to that option, host a gathering yourself. You can feed a decent-sized group for a reasonable amount and ask your guests to fill you in on what you missed.

3. Order the recordings.

Some conferences, including RWA National, offer recordings of workshops. Since the recordings are completed by professionals, the audio quality tends to be good, and you can hear for yourself exactly what was covered.

You miss out on the camaraderie and opportunity to ask your own questions, etc., but you might get more content than if you attended in person, since workshops often overlap.

4. Take your own writing retreat.

Another option is to skip out on trying to connect with the conference and go the other direction: Retreat. With “everyone else” at the conference, this might be the perfect time for you to log more time with your work in progress. Just avoid the social media where conference attendees are sharing the fabulous time they’re having and do what they’re likely not doing — write a bunch of words.

Tuning out that buzz, you might find yourself taking great strides toward finishing your project. Let them have their conference. You don’t care because you’re on your own personal writing retreat, and you’ll have lots to show for it!

Whatever option you choose, I still sanction Ben & Jerry’s — or my favorite, Blue Bell ice cream — as a good companion for your journey.

Are you going to a summer writing conference? If so, how can you share with others what you’ve learned? If not, how can you benefit from others going?

ABOUT JULIE

Julie Glover writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. When not writing, she collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for good grammar and the addition of the interrobang as a much-needed punctuation mark.

Julie is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. You can visit her website here and also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

July 11th, 2018

3 Reasons to Embrace the Prickly Synopsis

Orly Konig

There are certain words that make most writers break into a cold sweat. “Synopsis” is one of them.

Until recently, the thought of writing a synopsis would send me into fits of, “screw this, I’m going to become a unicorn farmer.” After all, I’m a pantser, I can’t possibly write about a story I have only a vague idea about.

The first time my agent asked for a proposal that included the first 50 pages and a synopsis, I panicked. Full out, hyperventilating into a bag of gummy bears panic. Once I was done with the gummy bears (and post-gummy Pepto Bismol), I sat down to write what needed to be written.

It was, my friends, a writing-life changing moment!

Here’s what I learned …

1) A synopsis is a brainstorming tool.

When a story idea nestles in my brain, I have various bits and pieces but no idea how they fit with each other. I’ve tried character sketches and scene cards and three-act structure diagrams and pretty much every how-to out there. None work for me. What works for me, is letting the ideas marinate until the story comes together. I open a word document, type “chapter 1” and work things out as I get there.

 So, the idea of writing about a story that was still forming, was slightly south of crazy. First time out was indeed painful. But at one point, I stopped agonizing over knowing what was coming, and let ideas jumble out of my brain. I’ve written before about mind-mapping. Free-flowing with a synopsis is just connecting the dots, where the dots are the branches of the mind-mapping exercise.

By not stressing over the structure, I can play around with ideas. I fantasize where the story could go and I don’t limit myself by rules or expectations.

2) A synopsis is not your novel.

In writing the synopsis, I’m telling my story’s story. I’m looking down at the game-board for my story and guiding the characters along the chutes and ladders. I’m writing from a different POV, and from a different level of intimacy with my story and characters. I don’t worry about whether the story has a sexy first line or a plump middle. I’m not focused on hooks and perfect phrasing.

By not agonizing about wordsmithing the content, I allow the ideas to pour out of my mind and settle onto the game-board as they see fit.

3) A synopsis is not your GPS system.

It doesn’t have to get you to a specific spot, just in a general direction. Sometimes you land on a chute that takes you one way, sometimes it’s a ladder that takes you in the opposite direction. And that’s okay. The point of the synopsis is to give the agent/editor/you a sense of the story’s purpose.

With a synopsis written, my next step is to storyboard the chapters. Before I start to write a chapter, I review the synopsis and what I’ve done in the previous chapter, then sketch out what the next chapter will look like. Sometimes the synopsis is on the money, other times, the chapter that needs to be written is completely different from what I thought would happen next.

The synopsis acts as a prompt, which can be a godsend on days when that blinking cursor tries to hypnotize the words right out of my brain.

The best advice I was given about writing a synopsis: “Relax.”

My advice to you: “Try it.” 

I’m still a free-soloing pantser. But I’ve also discovered the joy of a synopsis sanity saver.

Okay, tell me … are you camp synopsis or would you rather walk on legos than write one? For those who are camp synopsis, do you have any other tips for writing them that will help nudge a reluctant synopsis-writer?

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About Orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world where she spent roughly sixteen years working in the space industry. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm blog.

She’s the author of Carousel Beach (May 2018) and The Distance Home (May 2017).

Connect with Orly online at:

Website: www.orlykonig.com

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