by Jenny Hansen
A little over ten years ago, I wrote a post that changed my trajectory as a writer. Writing this post literally pulled me back from that edge of giving up the thing I most love to do. It was January, 2011 and one simple resolution saved me. In these crazy pandemic times, I thought perhaps someone else could use the words of encouragement.
Some background on what was going on with me...
- I'd just lived through the kind of pregnancy where the chance of everyone dying is incredibly real and I had a mild case of post-partum depression.
- That baby I worked so hard for was about eight months old.
- I was really really ill with what I realized later was an insane allergy to gluten.
You'll read the rest in the post, but I was very much in danger of losing my writing. The details and the chaos of my life were pounding against my creativity, washing it away like waves on the sand, and I didn't have the mental or physical resources to turn the tide.
Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.”
My New Year’s resolution for 2011 is to show up for my writing. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I thought so too until I spent 2010 showing up for everything else but my writing.
Now mind you, many of the things I showed up for were huge, life-changing events: a high-risk pregnancy, the birth of my first child, the loss of a treasured pet, the loss of my husband’s mother, our last living parent, moving from the home where I’ve lived for more than ten years. Plus there were the usual work, church, friend events that are important in keeping the day-to-day wheels of life running.
I continued to attend writing events where I could. Of course, I keep in close communication with my fellow members of Writers in the Storm, but I did not show up to my own works in progress on a regular basis. And it showed.
Laura Drake, our goal-oriented mover and shaker here at WITS, started making noises on New Year’s Eve for all of us to post our writing goals for the year (hers – in plural – were done). With the daily added tasks of a new baby, along with a husband and a job, her initial enthusiastic encouragement sounded like a loud, jarring squawk. Writing goals for the YEAR? I could barely get to a writing goal for the week and my personal goals read something like “start exercising and get some sleep.”
Still, my Christmas present to myself was taking time each day to read at least two essays from Julia Cameron’s “The Sound of Paper” and I was immersing myself in the delight of her pages each morning for about 20 minutes while I ate breakfast. She discusses at length that “the role of an artist is to show up for the work and allow it to move through them.”
I sat weeping at my breakfast table on December 30th as I thought about this very simple answer to my writing angst – a derivation of the answer that I give to people starting out in a new career. "When you aren’t sure what to do, do something. Even if what you’re doing isn’t “THE” thing, you are out there showing up each day so you will be ready when the perfect thing comes along."
I was crying because I hadn’t been following my own advice, especially when it came to writing.
I hadn’t understood that I just had to show up. I thought I had to build a writing temple, a schedule, a process, develop some sort of structure, all so the muse would have a set destination to show up to (and yes, I’m aware about how colossally dumb this sounds now that I’m writing it out loud for you).
My tears sprang from the joy and relief that I didn’t have to be somebody who had it together. My creative spirit could find me anyway. I just had to plop my overtired, cranky, insanely disorganized self down in front of whatever writing surface was handy, as often as possible.
That was it, my huge epiphany that year:
Show up to the page and the creative spirit will move through you if you stop trying to tell it how it needs to act, who it should be and what it should be saying. Park your inner control freak somewhere far from the page and just write. The rest will come.
With the above lesson in mind, I made a writing resolution that could fit into the life I had, rather than the life I wished for. (Of course, that dream life was filled with huge blocks of free time.)
My vow? Show up to the page for five hours a week.
As my daughter learned to crawl, walk, and run, I wrote. Sometimes it was a blog, sometimes it was a scene or a story. Whatever it was, I sent all my previously ordered notions about specific numbers of pages or chapters to the thrift shop for poor writerly habits and dead goals, along with all the other items I’d outgrown or stopped using. All those "shoulds" and negative self-talk ever did for me was stress me out during what was already a full-up busy, blissful, chaotic time.
Five hours a week -- or three, or even one when my baby girl was sick -- was a decadent gift to my creative self. Even when I had to break the time into twenty-minute chunks and set a kitchen timer, getting back to the page was an act of defiance and beauty and love. And for this new mom, it was as luxurious as a long, hot bubble bath.
Have you ever thought of chucking your writing over the proverbial cliff? What pulled you back from the edge? How did you get past it?
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By day, Jenny provides corporate communications and LinkedIn advice for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 18 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
by Ericka McIntyre
I’ve spent much of our Covid year learning about, editing, and writing my own memoir. Memoir is a form I think every writer should try to tackle at least once. Everyone has a story to tell. The exercise of writing a memoir can sharpen our memories and force us to write outside our comfort zones—always good practice for a writer at any level. If you want to craft a memoir that is truly a page-turner, you can and should use many of your fiction writing tricks.
First Things First: What a Memoir Is and Is Not
It is important to know what a memoir is and is not. A memoir is not your autobiography. A memoir is a slice of your life at a particular time, in a particular place. It is literally your memories put to paper. Some memoirs cover a year in a person’s life. Some memoirs cover several years. Think in terms of a season of your life, rather than a finite block of days on the calendar.
Many new memoirists hamstring themselves by feeling they need to tell their entire life stories, nose to tail, David Copperfield-style. You do not. A memoir focuses on a theme, on a particular red thread that has wound through your life thus far. It is not a full accounting of all your sins and wins!
A memoir is not a journal entry, even though it is your story. You must write it so that a reader can benefit from it. There must be a compelling reason to keep them turning the pages, such as a lesson they can learn or inspiration for them to find. Memoir can feel navel-gazey in the writing process, but it should never feel navel-gazey on the page. (Yes, I know this is daunting! But persevere.)
What holds a memoir together is a story—your story.
Remember as you write each page that you are telling that story, not making a police report. You can change names to protect people’s privacy. And since you are working from memory, the story will have your slant—don’t feel you have to get every single angle on it. If you ask your family about the picnic you had that one day in 1972, you will get a different story from each member about that day, told from their perspective. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth.
Discover what your truth is and use your memoir to tell it.
An Inciting Incident: You Need One
Telling us about the time you went to the market after work and ran into a friend you hadn’t seen since high school and you exchanged pleasantries with them is not a gripping inciting incident. Telling us about the time you went to the market after work, ran into a friend you hadn’t seen since high school, and found out they needed a kidney is a start. Deciding to see if you were a match to help them because of that one time in school when they saved you from being assaulted by a teacher? That is a gripping inciting incident.
Don’t invent something that isn’t true, but when you sit down to comb through the sand of your life, you are searching for the pearl that you will hand to your readers. Think of the unusual things. If you don’t think there are any of those pearls, think again. Everyone has as story.
Once I sat in a hotel bar on a business trip and met seven different travelers, from seven different age groups, seven different places, seven different walks of life. Each and every one of them had a compelling story. You do, too. And if you write it well, people will want to read it.
Many new memoirists neglect to see that what they are crafting are characters (who just happen to be real people). You are the “main character” of your memoir.
This is tough for many writers. Do we ever really see ourselves completely objectively? Probably not. But we must do our best. Use the same techniques to craft interesting characters in your memoir that you do in your fiction writing. Make a list of who will appear on the stage of your memoir, and sketch them out, just as you would the players in your novel.
- Did your fifth-grade teacher always smell of hard-boiled eggs?
- What type of sweaters did your mother wear?
- How did your first husband’s patterns of speech differ from those of the man you left him for? (Yes, we can be the villains in our memoirs.)
- What is your college roommate’s backstory?
- What seemed to make your stepfather abusive/wonderful/hilarious/boring?
Use significant details to build distinctive characters that your readers will cheer and jeer at in your pages. Each person will be painted as you saw them, of course, but make sure they’re unique individuals, and not just slices of your own id on parade.
Here’s where the old saw, “show, don’t tell” rears its exasperating head yet again. It applies to memoir just as much as it does to novels. Memoirists can take license to paint scenes for their readers, and they absolutely should. The day you meet the person who changed your life forever? I want to see, smell, hear, taste, and feel everything about it.
Don’t say, “I went to audition for a play and I met the director who later became my best friend.” Craft an entire scene, from the moment you got ready to go, to the way you got there, everyone who was there with you, to what immediately struck you about the director. Did you stumble through the audition or did it go off without a hitch? What was your first conversation with this person?
Show us all of it, with action, with sensory detail, and with your “characters’” speech. These scenes need to have the same kind of active pacing you’d place in your fiction. You can use foreshadowing in them, just as you would in your novel, too. And you can tell the truth while you’re doing all of this.
A lot of first-time memoirists feel that since they’re telling a true story, they can’t use dialogue because they don’t recall everything that was said to a T. Not true! You’re writing your memories of events, to the best of your recollection, not testifying under oath in a court of law.
You remember how the people in your life spoke. You remember their verbal tics. You remember their accents. Stay true to those things and the events as you recall them, and use them to rebuild conversations that you and they had. Your mother may have said “but” instead of “however,” but you’re not going to be called to account for that. You won’t get billed five bucks for every adjective or preposition you don’t get exactly right, so loosen up!
It’s important to note too, that dialogue becomes easier to write the better you know and have crafted your “characters.” When you have drawn who a person is, how they sound, what motivates them, it is easy to imagine what they would have said. Take the layer from your memory and fill in the surface losses, adhering as closely to the truth as you can.
If this all sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. But writing a memoir can be some of the most rewarding work a writer can do. Even if you never publish that manuscript, you can use it as practice to hone your writing style, find your voice, and sharpen your skills. That is always worthwhile. You never know what may come tumbling forth from your mind when you try to remember your own life—I have been astonished at my story many times in the process—the themes that have revealed themselves, the synchronicities I never was aware of before. I have even gotten several novel and short essay ideas from the work of writing my memoir. Anything that gets a writer’s mind turning in new ways can be beneficial.
Have you written a memoir? Does the thought excite or terrify you? A little of both? Tell us in the comments.
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Ericka McIntyre is a freelance writer and editor. She has over twenty years of experience working in media and publishing, for a wide array of employers and clients. She is also currently Editor-at-Large of Writer’s Digest, a 100-year-old brand serving the writing community. In her current work, she focuses on writing for a handful of regular clients, with a heavy emphasis on editing and book coaching for independent authors. She works on fiction and nonfiction, across multiple genres. She development edits, copyedits, and proofreads. Learn more about her and her work at www.erickamcintyre.com.
by Ellen Buikema
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”– Plato
Music, the art of sound through the use of rhythm, harmonies, and melodies, is food for the soul—divine, effective, mathematical – the science of sound. Its language is universal.
A tuneful writing exercise
Music has the ability to spark our imaginations. Here’s how to channel that muse into inspiration for your writing. Turn on a tune that you love and listen carefully.
- Where does the music take you?
- What memory does the music send you to?
- How does the music make you feel?
- Now use that song to envision a character or setting.
- Then take a few minutes and write what the song inspired in you.
Music to get us motivated
For those weeks full of Mondays when nothing is going right, turn on a get-moving playlist to drag yourself to your writing space.
I’m a fan of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. This song always brings a smile to my face and makes me feel peppier. One writer and filmmaker recommends “In One Ear” by Cage the Elephant, a very high energy, edgy sound. Here are 52 motivational songs to get you pumped.
Score your novel
Many writers choose music based on the mood of the scene they’re developing. While listening to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” conjure writing scenes of slicing through the waves via tall ships or helicopters soaring through clouds on the way to battle. I’ve tried this but it doesn’t work for me. I always hear Elmer Fudd singing, “Kill the wabbit …” when I listen to this piece of the opera Die Walküre. I guess I watched too many Warner Brothers Cartoons growing up.
For romance, light classical music works well. “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls, used in the movie City of Angels, is a fine example. Here are 24 lovely examples in a one hour set to help with the mood.
Soundtracks swell as they maneuver your protagonist through a crime scene. Check out this crime thriller background music.
Australian science fiction author A.C. Flory uses music that fits the mood of what she’s writing. Every once in a while she shares the music she’s found that fits the mood of the piece perfectly. Here’s a recent example.
Music can transport you just about anywhere. I can remember slow dancing (okay, it was that eighth grade hug-and-waddle) to “Knights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues. If I need to return to the emotions of that time all I have to do is hear the tune and it all comes flying back to me. Not that I really want to revisit adolescence and all that teen angst. Ew. But if I need to make my way there, music is a fast ride back.
Songs from long ago or far away
If your setting is in a foreign land, music from that nation will help you get a feel for your characters and scenes. Let’s say that you are writing a scene that takes place in the American Southwest. An easy way to travel there is to listen to Native American music, deep and hauntingly calm.
If your setting is Spain, the Spanish guitar may lend inspiration. I chose Andrés Segovia for an example as I have seen him in concert and he was marvelous.
For scenes in the Australian outback listen to the drone of the didgeridoo. Lewis Burns, an ambassador of the Aboriginal Tradition, uses circular breathing for continuous sound. I can’t imagine how difficult this is to do.
Should we write while listening to music?
Neuroscientist will answer a resounding “No.” According to these scientists when we try to multitask, like write while listening to a song, or texting a friend and listening to a family member, our brain burns glucose at a faster rate and releases cortisol because our brain tries to give equal attention to all the incoming stimuli. They posit that writing while listening to music induces stress. That said, this does not seem to be the case.
Classical music played at a low volume may increase concentration. Low level ambient sound may improve creativity.
A friend grew up near an opera house in New York City. She did her homework while listening to the loud music emanating from the stage and orchestra pit. She prefers to write while listening to classical music set at a high volume. Experiences differ.
Music with or without lyrics
Instrumentals like jazz and classical can allow the world to slip away. Music with lyrics seems to be the problem child as songs with lyrics cause some writers distraction. There is always the possibility of the lyrics finding their way into dialogue.
An odd music related aside
According to one study published in 2012, people who ate at low-lit restaurants where soft music was played consumed 18% less food than those who ate in other restaurants. Not so good for the restaurant, but I wonder if writing in a low-lit writing cave while listening to soft sounds will cause less snacking.
Whatever you decide, the music you play while writing must inspire you and your book.
Do you listen to music while you write? Which comes first, the tune or the tale? How does music affect your work? Do you use music local to the story to help you get in the mood for writing those scenes?
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are, The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA fantasy.
by Lisa Hall Wilson
When you begin to learn about Deep Point of View, one of the over-simplified “rules” that’s taught is to remove emotion words (hate, anxious, happy, sad, worried, etc.), but that leaves you with a BIGGER problem. How do you show the character's emotions once you’ve removed the emotion words?
Emotions become the WHY for everything your character thinks, says, and does, so if you’re getting feedback that readers can’t connect with your character, they don’t understand why your character thinks/says/does certain things – you might have either a WHY problem, or a GAP.
A Shift in Mindset
The goal of deep POV is to remove the writer/narrator voice and create an immersive emotional journey for the reader, where they are with the character in every scene and privy to every relevant thought and feeling. Every word on the page comes from within your character, you’re not telling a story about a character (as you are in limited third person).
The WHY Must Be Specific
Why your character is making the decisions they make or thinking the way they do – the reader wants to be along for that journey. If you don’t know why your character is making certain choices or what they think about everything, then the reader has no chance whatsoever to figure it out without you telling them.
The WHY must be specific to the situation and the stakes made clear to readers. Your character is angry, keep asking them why they’re mad. What else are they feeling? How does being angry help in this situation? Are they free to express their anger in this situation? Why or why not. What’s at stake?
That why-filter shows what’s important to your character -- priorities, what they’re risking or exposing, and gives motivation for decisions. That why-filter contains all their past experiences and current emotions, even the ones they’re afraid to show to anyone.
Mind The Gap
When you hear from beta readers or critique partner to go deeper, one of the problems they may be pointing to (without being able to articulate the problem) is the gap. When the why is missing, the reader pauses at the gap undermining the immersive effect we’re going for.
The gap happens when we summarize, skip, skim, or otherwise leap ahead and leave the reader behind. Either the actual decision isn’t revealed to the reader and/or why the character made that decision is missing.
Jason watched the woman walk towards the bar, her heels clacking on the hard linoleum. Not interested, he thought.
Can you see the gap? There’s distance and telling in this bit with the word “watched” and “he thought” but there’s something missing. Why isn’t he interested? The conclusion is being shared without showing the evidence of how that conclusion was reached – we’re storytelling instead of living out the story as the character. What does Jason see that causes him to dismiss the woman? You might be tempted to TELL here to fill in the gap. Resist!! Use emotions to show why.
Feminine heels clacked on the hard linoleum. Jason swiveled in his seat. The lanky blond-from-a-box strode towards him with a wink, her hot pink heels competing against her cleavage for his gaze. Trouble, that’s what that was. Pure and simple. He gave her his back and tipped his beer to his lips.
In the first version, he sees her and makes a snap decision, but I don’t know what information he’s used to make that decision – is it based on her appearance, age, clothing, gender?? The reader has no idea. In the rewrite, the reader sees the woman through Jason’s perspective. She’s lanky (not willowy, slender, lean, curvy – she’s lanky – that’s a description that has a negative connotation), and he sees her hair as blond-from-a-box – another negative description. This is all emotional subtext, right. We haven’t TOLD the reader anything.
Then we have the thought. “Trouble, that’s what that was.” Do we need him to describe her eye color, clothing, designer label? Nope. We get a sense of what’s important to him RIGHT NOW based on the details he focuses on and skips over. He doesn’t see anything he finds more attractive than his beer.
Do you see how the missing why creates a gap for readers? Readers can’t see what he sees, the way he sees it – they’re not in the room with him. The gap undermines the immersive effect deep POV aims to create.
Let’s Look At Another Example.
Allison stared at the painting, wondering at the imagination required to create such a stunning portrait. She would never be able to paint like that, she thought.
We know the thinking and emotions have to go (wondering, thought), but can you see the gap? Do you know WHY she thinks she could never make something like that? What exactly is she wondering at? There’s a why here, but there’s no specificity to it, there’s no details that might give greater insight into the character for readers (into who she is, what she wants, what’s important to her, etc.). The why is where readers connect emotionally.
Allison’s ankles ached from standing still too long, but she couldn’t look away from the painting. The woman in the portrait studied her, like she was worth noticing. Tears welled up in her eyes. She rocked on her heels and looked away, shoulders slumped. She’d never be able to paint such an expression.
To try and show that Allison has been studying the painting for a while, I brought in a sensory detail – her ankles ache. The woman in the portrait makes her feel seen (which implies that ordinarily she feels overlooked, plain, unworthy) and it draws out an emotional response. Now we have a specific reason for Allison’s conclusion that she could never paint an expression (see the specificity?) like that.
Are the gaps clear to you from the examples? Have you found any in your own work? We hope you'll share them with us in the comments!
The next 5 week masterclass on deep POV starts in May 2021. Find more details soon in the Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction Facebook group.
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Lisa Hall-Wilson is a writing teacher and award-winning writer and author. She’s the author of Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers. Her blog Beyond Basics For Writers explores all facets of the popular writing style deep point of view and offers practical tips for writers.
She runs the free Facebook group Going Deeper With Emotions where she shares tips and videos on writing in deep point of view.
by John Peragine
Next month my book Max and the Spice Thieves launches, and one of the main events, especially during the time of Covid, is a virtual book tour. The days of slogging a trunk full of books from bookstore to bookstore are far and few unless you are a celebrity. Traditional Publishing houses don't pay for them like they used to, and the turn out at many events can be a little depressing.
Virtual book tours have taken up the slack and are growing in popularity. These virtual tours help an author get their book in front of the right people: book lovers. In addition, they are connecting to people who like books in the genre they write.
What is a Virtual Book Tour (VBT)?
A VBT is when an author shows up on a blog during a particular period of time. VBT times vary. Some last a day (Book Blitz), and others run a month or longer. Most tours last a week or two and often occur right before a release to create a buzz.
There are few different ways you can appear on a blog during the tour:
- A blogger reviews and rates your book.
- You write a short guest post on the blog.
- An excerpt of your book appears on the blog.
- You are interviewed.
- You share your top ten list (usually the theme is picked by the blogger).
- A blog features your book trailer.
One way a book tour can engage people (readers) is with a raffle. Authors give away copies of their books, swag or a gift card. In order to be entered, the reader is required to like a FB page, or follow a Twitter account, or give their email address. Tours often utilize Rafflecopter, which collects the entries and picks a winner at random.
Should You Do It Yourself?
My short answer is no, unless you have a lot of time and connections. There are thousands of book blogs and it could take you forever to organize a great tour. You must find the right blogs for your book, contact the right people, and set up a date to promote your book on their site.
If you do chose to try to set up your own VBT, here are some things to consider:
- Be very very specific about your genre. Not all book blog sites provide reviews.
- When was the last time a blog was posted?
- Do the books on the site look like yours?
- What is the response of people to posts? Is there any engagement?
- Is there a fee?
- Do the posts look professional?
- What country are they based?
- How many posts do they have?
- How long has the site existed?
- What are their rules for book reviews and blog tours?
You must decide when you want to do your blog tour and then you can reach out to the blog owner to see if they are willing to be a stop. You will have to coordinate the raffle, all the blogs, the interviews, excerpts, and everything else. A successful book tour is often set up a month or two in advance.
There are sites that list other sites that do blog tours and book reviews. Often these sites have outdated information and many of the blogs no longer exist or haven't had a post in six months or more. The other way is good ole searching for blog sites through Google, which can mean a lot of kissing frogs before finding your prince or princess.
A Note About Reviews
I wrote a blog about book reviews in January here at WITS, sharing my thoughts on bad reviews. When your book is being reviewed for a book tour, you might get a bad review. It is a risk you take, so you might ask to read the review before it appears on their blog (and before featuring it on your blog tour).
Be sure to send the reviewer your book in plenty of time to read it and get a review back to you. Not everyone is going to love your book, but remember that you can choose whether to promote them as part of your book tour.
Preparing for Your Blog Tour
Most blogs are not going to announce ahead of time that you are going to be visiting their site, so it is up to you to promote your tour. You may want to create a banner, and promote it on all of your social media channels. When you are closer to your tour date, release your tour list with links.
Let the readers know about the prizes. Share that they will be able to get some great behind-the-scenes looks at you and your book.
Hire a Virtual Book Tour Company
If you are like me, you'd rather be writing your next novel than trying to set up a blog tour. There are a number of sites that offer blog tours. They do all the hard work for you. They have relationships with many bloggers and post your book for bloggers to sign up to be part of your tour. This means that they are used to doing book tours and more importantly they are interested in your book.
The price tag for these tours ranges from (approximately) $80-$300, depending on how many blog tour stops you want and if you want any extras. Often these blog tour companies concentrate on particular genres, so again check out their other tours. Read the information carefully about what the tours consist of before you send any money.
Here are my top Virtual Book Tour companies. (In no particular order)
When it's all over, remember to thank your blog hosts. This is extremely important because (a) is it polite and (b) they are the gatekeepers of your potential audience. It's always important to be respectful of the gatekeepers!
Have you done a Virtual Book Tour? What was your experience? Please share it with us down in the comments!
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John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine Enthusiast, Grapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.
John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. You can learn more about his books at JohnPeragineBooks.com.
His newest book, Max and the Spice Thieves, will be released on April 20, 2021. Click here for a free first chapter.