Writer karma. It’s one of the myriad phrases I’ve learned over the last three years since I emerged as a writer. Writer karma has led me, an emerging writer, to be here at Writers in the Storm as a new quarterly contributor. Hello!
A bit about me…
I didn’t discover writing as a creative outlet until I was almost forty, a year after my eleven year-old son Matthew was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As our family recovered from the trauma, an awareness grew in me that our story must be told.
My first draft was dreadful. Even my 20th draft was shitty. But that didn’t deter me, perhaps because I didn’t know how crappy it actually was.
Then, I quit.
My son’s recovery was slow. Painfully slow. I found it impossible to write the story as we lived it, without yet knowing the ending, so I packed writing away and left it to languish. In 2016, when I medically retired, a voice in my head said, “Finish your book.”
And my writing life re-emerged. It was time to put those early lessons to use, and to learn more.
One of early writing lessons was the importance of boosting other writers. Read, share, retweet, like, comment. It all comes around in the writing and reading community.
What you give, you shall receive.
Writers in the Storm, with its wealth of insightful and informative articles, was one of my regular stops, and I commented frequently. It never occurred to me that anyone other than the article author took note. Then, in November 2019, I got an email from Jenny Hansen, one of the founders here.
“I've been keeping an eye on you over at WITS for a while and I'm wondering if you'd like to take on a bigger role.”
And I thought, “Who, me?” But here I am, in all my newbie-ness.
Positive energy out, positive energy in.
I reached out to several more experienced writers in my quest to research writer karma.
Memoir coach, teacher, and editor, with an entire curriculum of online classes. Marion is the author of four published books. She was the instructor for my first live writing class.
On writer’s karma, she said, “What I was taught is what I use to write and what I teach. Given to me, it must be moved along.” Her book The Memoir Project, A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text on Writing & Life—sits dog-eared on my shelf.
An award-winning writing professor, and bestselling author/coauthor of twelve books, Susan has helped hundreds of students get bylines in the New York Times, Washington Post and other big-name publications. She shares her best practices in The Byline Bible, which also sits on my shelf, its pages thick with sticky notes.
When I asked Susan about writer karma, she wrote, “I think helping my students get published, returning the kindness my mentors showed me, is a way of paying it forward.” Susan believes the focus of an emerging writer’s promotion should be on non-famous writers, “especially debuts by women and marginalized authors from indie presses.”
What about other newbies, like me?
Ronni Robinson is working on a memoir about her recovery from over thirty years of compulsive overeating. She and I connected on social media and then exchanged emails.
When I wrote a Facebook post asking writers for their thoughts on karma, Ronni didn’t reply, which is unusual because she rarely misses an opportunity to comment or share fellow writers’ posts. When I emailed her, she replied: “It's funny, I saw your post about karma on FB and to be perfectly honest, it stumped me. I never heard of it, had no clue what it was, so I didn't comment.” Yet, Ronni shares more positive feedback than any other writer I know.
Back at ya’, Ronni—here’s a little karma for you.
Whether you call it karma or kindness or manners, writers helping other writers helps us all. Everyone decides how big a role engagement plays in those precious few writing hours (because there’s never enough writing time, is there?).
5 Tips To Spread the Writer Karma
1. Read essays and articles.
In the time it takes to read one book (and I read lots of those, too), I can read dozens of pieces by dozens of writers, giving me scores of opportunities to engage. Don’t know where to find writers? Subscribe to sites like WITS to get you started. (And check out the Resources tab!)
2. If you read it, “like” it.
One “like” can silence the drone of a thousand post-publication crickets. Writers hate hearing crickets.
3. If you have time to comment, do.
Simple is fine: “Powerful.” “Thanks for sharing.” “This spoke to me.” “I enjoyed this.” If you have time for more, all the better. “I can relate to this because…”
4. If you love a piece with no like or comment option, track down that author and tell them!
Shortly after my sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2018 (yes, two completely unrelated brain tumors in one family), I happened upon this Vogue essay on Twitter. Daphne Beal, a writer, had the same tumor as my sister—a meningioma—and was doing equally well. I found Daphne’s email address, wrote to tell her of our commonality and wish her continued good health. She was flattered.
Important note: If you reach out when there’s no direct link, be gracious: “Please forgive this personal email; I want to tell you how much your essay means to me.” Most authors will be thrilled that you took the time and energy to pay them a compliment. But, don’t be stalkerish! One email is enough. If you don’t get a reply, let it go.
5. Comment in a way you’d like to read about your own writing.
You can share a negative opinion politely. Or just scroll on by. What you send out into the world will come back to you, remember?
Whether you believe in karma or positive energy or the power of kindness, I hope you will spread a little writer love in the world. The world can certainly use it.
Do you have an engagement practice or tip to share? Please let me know in the comments, and I promise to reply. I need all the good karma I can get.
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Karen began writing twenty years ago after her eleven-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Those early pages are now a real-life medical mystery about a mother who must overcome her toxic agreeability if she's to save herself and her son. The manuscript is currently in submission for publication.
A happy empty-nester with her husband of thirty-seven years, Karen lives and writes in upstate New York. You can find out more about her journey at www.KarenDeBonis.com.
Top photo credit: Pixabay
by Eldred "Bob" Bird
Recently, I received feedback on my manuscript, Cold Karma, from one of my beta readers and was pleasantly surprised. “I really like reading your books,” he said. “You don’t bog things down with a lot of unnecessary details. You let the characters tell the story.”
If I had been wearing a hat, it would have had popped off like a champagne cork due to my head swelling three sizes.
I’m used to getting comments on plot, characters and dialogue, but this wasn’t about those things. His comment was about my writing style—about me as an author. After my head shrunk back to normal size, I put on my analyst cap and thought about what he said.
“You let the characters tell the story.”
That was the key thing that set my work apart for him? But…HOW did I accomplish that?
I broke down my own writing style to analyze what my subconscious already knew.
Put the Characters in Charge
The first thing to jump out at me: my characters seemed to be driving the bus, rather than the narrator.
How did I accomplish this?
By limiting the amount of narration, I was able to push the characters front and center. Focusing on these areas helped:
Let the words come out of your characters’ mouths. Don’t let the narrator take center stage when you can have your characters communicate the information? Sounds easy, right? Not necessarily.
Avoid the data dumps. I try to let conversations between characters bring out details in a more natural way. And it’s a way that doesn’t drag down the pacing of your story. It also provides an opportunity to emphasize specific details through the character’s reaction to a statement.
Use internal dialogue wisely. If the character is alone, I use internal dialogue. We all note details and make comments inside our own brains. I let my characters do it as well.
Note: Beware the head-hop. Head-hopping within a scene can be confusing for the readers. Try to stick inside of a single head each scene, or even each chapter.
Give each character a unique voice. Voice doesn’t just communicate a character’s words, but also who they are as a person. By making your characters’ speech patterns match their personalities, you allow them to reveal little bits of themselves without being overt. Unique voices also allow the reader to know who is talking without using dialogue tags that clutter up a scene and slow the pacing of a conversation.
Action tags are a great place to include non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions. Knowing who’s talking is important, but sometimes “he-said, she-said” can get monotonous. Instead I weave in what’s going on in the scene and how the characters are interacting physically.
Even something as simple as Joe took a drink and wiped his mouth with his sleeve might break up a long piece of dialogue, tell you who is talking, and show you a little about Joe’s lack of table manners.
Showing a character’s interactions with their environment is a great way to immerse readers into the story. Engaging the senses also puts things in the character’s hands. Sight, smell, touch, taste and sound are all important to scene building, and Deep POV allows both the characters and the reader to experience them. The smell of bacon and fresh coffee wafting up the stairs, the soft feel of a worn suede jacket, the distant sound of children giggling as they play—all paint a powerful picture when experienced from the character’s point of view.
Strategic Point of View
Choosing the correct POV makes a difference in character participation. The closer we get to the character, the less we need to rely on narration to tell the story—unless your character is the narrator.
First-Person POV, be it past or present, puts the job of storytelling squarely on the shoulders of the main character. I use first person quite often in short stories as a way of making a quick connection between the reader and main character.
In novels, I prefer to use the Third-Person Limited POV.
The cast of characters is usually larger in a novel and it gives me a more flexibility. In third person limited, I’m only looking over the shoulder of one character, so we’re still close to them. In this POV, the narrator can only see into that one character’s head.
If my main character is in the scene, that’s who I follow, otherwise, it’s what ever character is the main person driving that particular scene. This keeps the story tight to the characters, as the reader only knows what that particular character knows.
So, Let’s Review
- Limiting narration and letting your characters do the talking will help show instead of tell.
- Unique character voices give each character a chance to reveal things about their personality, background, and emotional state.
- Action tags and the five senses weave in details naturally. (A great way to paint the scene without long descriptions.)
- Limited POVs keep your reader closer to the characters.
One Final Thought
The characters can’t always do the job by themselves. There are times when the narrator has to dip his or her paintbrush into the scene. I work hard to limit those times.
Every writer develops their own voice. Mine probably developed this way because it’s the way I like to read but different methods work for different people.
In other words, don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. The best way to tell a story is the way that works for you and your readers, and gets you to “The End.”
Do you have a favorite book where the characters do all the talking? Do you have a favorite point of view to write in? To read in? We want to hear about it down in the comments!
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Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing Karma and Catching Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking Room and Treble in Paradise: A tale of Sax and Violins.
When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21 inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website: http://www.eldredbird.com/.
My word for 2020: Hope
Hope is my favorite four letter word. It keeps me moving forward. Even in the dark days when I worry about digging myself out of the current dilemma, the hope that all will be well lights my way.
Hope offers a lifeline, a feeling of optimism for all endeavors. So, for this New Year, my wish for all of us is to have the hope needed to achieve what we desire most.
My word for 2020: Peace
Peace is in short supply in this crazy world. Hoard your own personal supply of it. Carve out your own little oasis, whether it is writing time and space, or an immersion learning with your favorite writing instructor.
Most important of all, don't allow anyone to steal your joy. Because leeching the joy from your life will also steal it from your writing.
My word for 2020: Trust
You must trust in yourself above all else. Trust your gut when it comes to writing, editing, and publishing. You know what is best for your characters and your book. Never give that away.
Trust others guidance and opinions along the way, but remember you always have the the last “word”.
My word for 2020: Promise
Our relationships are made up of promises and how well we keep them. Our own success often relates to how well we follow through on what we say we're going to do. And as authors, we make promises to readers that we should fulfill.
I haven't always kept the promises I've made — well, at least not in a timely fashion. I am a person of my word, but slow to finish at times. Honestly, I've missed my own deadlines more times than I care to confess.
Sometimes the problem is setting unrealistic goals, but sometimes it's just a matter of not prioritizing the promise. Yet I want to be a person of promise, someone others can count on to do what she says she'll do — whether that's writing a review for an author friend, meeting a deadline to an agent or myself, or delivering a story that measures up to the promise of the premise. So for 2020, my one word is promise.
My word for 2020: VIP
Congratulations on reaching VIP writer status! Yes, by reading blogs like WITS, you demonstrate my one word for 2020. Studying your craft hones that VIP status by doing the following:
- Clarifying your Vision as an author.
- Setting your Intentions for writing and3. Manifesting creative Plans for the new decade.
May you be the VIP you intend to be!
My one word for 2020: Shift
I'm writing a Women's Fiction that I hope to sell in 2020. I hope to follow this path forward. Not saying I'll never write another romance, but I'm having a blast exploring another genre!
Now we want to hear from you! What one word will guide your writing life in 2020?
Best wishes for all of you as you travel into 2020!
from Ellen, Jenny, John, Julie, Kris (and special guest: Laura)
Beginnings matter! Both for New Year's and for your manuscript. Our own wonderful Laura Drake will be teaching a First Five Pages class for Lawson Academy online. This is the stuff that hooks agents, editors, and most importantly, readers—well worth your time, money, and effort to get it right!
by Kris (K.Maze)
It's the end of the year, past NaNoWriMo and the holidays, and a good time to reflect on our success. I'm speaking of "success with intention."
I see "success with intention" like this: Even if your NaNoWriMo power streak broke as mine did, leaving me hopelessly short of the 50K goal, I still have more words to polish than I had before. And although my writing power streak broke, *I* didn’t.
It is important to me not to sacrifice my health to my writing.
All the success in the world means nothing if you can’t enjoy it.
Often, during the busy NaNo/holiday season, writers ignore their health. But, as I mentioned in my post about the Wellness Wheel for Writers, keeping your main writing tool — you — in shape is vital to any writer’s success.
As my New Year’s gift to you, I’ve provided five tips with resources to help you examine your physical well-being as we move into 2020.
Tao Porchon-Lynch, at 101 years old, teaches yoga and dances competitively. This award-winning indie book author, TED Talk speaker, Guinness World Record holder, and wine lover shared her secret to a well-lived life with CBS. Her memoir, Dancing Light, draws upon her creative experience, and does so with grace and balance.
After showing off twirls with her 26-year-old partner, Porchon-Lynch tells the reporter her snippets of wisdom.
“Never put negative thoughts in the mind, because they go straight to the body.”- Tao Pinchon-Lynch
Does your inner critic nag you about clunky or blasé wording? Are you concerned about cutting wide swaths of your beloved story or unsure where to start?
Do you have…
Guilt over not hitting your writing goals?
Perhaps we can relax knowing these concerns are part of what makes us dig in to perfect our writing. That feeling that our writing is not-there yet drives us to make better words. Words that inspire and teach.
Writers crave the flow of the creative experience.
When your writing feels more like dodging potholes on a gravel road, rather than zooming smoothly across the autobahn, consider these symptoms of your creative muse rectifying your inner drive.
“Know that the dance of life is inside you and that you should believe.”Tao Pinchon-Lynch
The Physical Section of Our Wellness Wheel
With so much time in the chair, this is the part of the wellness wheel that gives many writers the most trouble. I have curated resources for tired wrists and aching backs. Below are some quick short and long term fixes. Browse through. And maybe try a few out.!
#1 - Sample online yogis from the comfort of home.
Below are three YouTube Yogis I’ve found inspiring and helpful. There are others, so if the personalities or lesson are not at your level, do a search for other options. Most of these yogis have a homepage with more videos, where you can support their work by subscribing or making a one-time donation. There are literally thousands of exercises available for free to keep us limber while we write our next break-out novel.
- Yoga for writers with Adrian.
- This yogi has a casual style that enables anyone to access their creative flow. Here is a session she created for writers. Her explanations are easy to follow and modify.
- Yoga with Tim
- Don’t be fooled by the title: “Yoga for beginners.” His ability to communicate the physiology of each pose is helpful for doing them correctly. As a surfer, he also relates his videos to specific injuries. I like the way he orders the exercises in ways that don’t feel like work (until your muscles thank you later).
- Sarah Beth Yoga
- Sarah Beth is a writer favorite due to her short online sessions that you can pick by 1) time you have and 2) what area of the body or stress you want to address. This linked video shows a desk routine for writers.
This WebMD article explains how to strengthen each area of your hand with detailed pictures. Here is one of their quick relaxation tips:
If your hands and fingers feel painful and stiff, try warming them up before you exercise. This can make it easier to move and stretch. Use a heating pad or soak them in warm water for about five to 10 minutes. Or, for a deeper warmth, rub some oil on your hands, put on a pair of rubber gloves, and then soak them in warm water for a few minutes.
#3 - Play with clay.
Clay can increase your range of motion and strengthen your hands. Plus, it’s cathartic to revisit your inner child or to invite a kid or two to join you. You may reignite your muse while squishing little clay balls and creating long snakes.
#4 - Redesign your writing space to better suit you.
Ellen Buikema explored this in her post last week and the secret for her was Feng Shui. Not sure what your workspace needs are? This link will take you to an insightful questionnaire and a few experiments to try.
#5 - Create a desk exercise routine with these simple exercises.
Here is a graphic with everything you need.
Does your writing cause physical ailments? What solutions have you found to resolve them? What would you like to change in the coming year?
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Kris Maze is a writer of essays and speculative short fiction. Her YA sci-fi will be released in June of 2020. More information can be found at her website.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors with her family. She also ponders the wisdom of Bob Ross.
- 10 Ways To Exercise Hands and Fingers
- What are the most likely causes of upper back pain?
- Sitting at your desk doesn't have to be a pain in the neck
- Deskercize: Upper Back Stretches
- 5 Physical Problems You Have From Sitting Still All Day, Solved
- Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eyes of a Modern Yoga Master
by Ellen Buikema
Does where you work affect your writing? As you’ve seen from my earlier posts, it really affects mine. I believe it is related to energy.
Everything is made of energy which vibrates to different frequencies. Ask a quantum physicist. She will tell you that atoms, the building blocks of the universe, are made up of energy vortexes that spin and vibrate to their own frequency signature.
Let’s narrow this down to something closer to home, that we can actually control.
Have you ever walked into a home and felt comfortable right away? Or, couldn’t wait to get out because something was driving you crazy? These feelings, which we sense to different degrees, are related to the energy of the location as well as the individuals occupying the space.
Why do I need good energy flow? I am a very sensitive person and the feel of a room makes a big difference for me. If I am at ease I write very well. Otherwise, I have a difficult time concentrating. I’ll give you a personal example of feeling negative energy in a room.
Many years ago, while traveling in Southern California, we visited the Mission San Juan Capistrano. The grounds and main structures are beautiful, but I a felt extremely uneasy about entering the church. It was a gut clenching, heart squeezing thing.
I talked myself into joining the line of people filing inside and the feelings of dread continued but didn’t intensify. Parents pushing a small child followed us into the church. When the little one wailed, I thought to myself, I’m right there with you kiddo. Visualizing a protective, reflective bubble helped me block off what felt like a large amount of negative energy. I was glad to exit the building.
After our journey I did a bit of research and discovered the gross brutality associated with many of these California missions. Nowadays, when I travel, I check out the history of these places in advance.
Now that we are in a peaceful home, I am itching to arrange my work area to encourage the creative flow so I can spend more time in the creative zone. Enter Feng Shui.
Quick overview of Feng Shui
The first time I heard of this system of spatial arrangement for beneficial energy flow was in the Historical fiction novel Tai-Pan, by James Clavell. The book includes a long discussion of Feng Shui regarding the location of the home, which was discovered to be on the “Dragon’s neck.” The Feng Shui practitioner gives recommendations to the book’s characters to help correct this tragic placement as “That’d be horrifical, for the dragon that sleeps in the earth would no longer be able to sleep peacefully.”
Apparently bad things happen to those living on the dragon’s neck.
A fun quote spoofed from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: "Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger." I’ve seen on Social Media as: “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.”
In other words: Never wake a sleeping dragon.
Back to Feng Shui…
I found two feng shui maps (baguas), otherwise known as the 8 areas. The areas on the maps correspond to important areas of one’s life for health, wealth, and happiness. The five essential elements are wood, water, metal, fire, and earth.
Directions aren’t my strongest skill anyway, but with all the moving around we’ve done I feel directionally challenged. I’m leaning toward the Western Bagua Map because it does not incorporate direction. It doesn’t matter which method you choose.
If you are considering exploring Feng Shui for your home or office, I encourage you to choose whichever resonates best with you. There is always more than one way to work with energy.
Other important considerations
Color is important for creativity. It may not be practical to paint the walls, so desired colors can be included in the writing cave by using photos, pillows, wall hangings, flowers, or any bric-a-brac that appeals to you.
There are also colors associated with the elements of Feng Shui:
Wood: Green, Brown
Fire: Red, Strong Yellow, Orange, Purple, Pink
Earth: Light Yellow, Sandy/Earthy, Light Brown
Metal: White, Gray
Water: Blue, Black
The colors for creativity are white and gray. The color of most of the walls in our current living situation is white-ish, so I am good to go. Light yellow and sandy brown, both earth colors, also work well. I wrote in an orange room in a previous house. I felt very good in this room, but am writing with more ease in a room of off-white walls, which is encouraging.
Shapes for creativity should be rounded. The table I used in the last house was oval, here it is triangular with rounded edges.
Decor pieces of sliver, earthenware, rocks, and crystals are all helpful to promote good energy flow. Earthy pictures without fire or water elements are also beneficial for creativity. Steer clear of photos dominant with the colors found in flames. Mountains, forests, and sandy beaches are all good.
For your writing desk the recommendation is to use a command position such that you have a visible control over your surroundings. Optimally, this calls for having a clear sight of the doorway from your chair, a solid wall behind, and a window with a nice view. If you can’t see the door from your chair, try using a mirror on the wall to reflect the door. If there is no window, use an earthy photo and be sure that you have a light source as close to natural light as possible.
The room I am using now has some skylights so I have plenty of natural light. I don’t have access to a window with a nice view, instead I have a few favorite pieces on the desk and a big fluffy dog to keep me company.
Reorganizing my workspace with Feng Shui is my New Year’s push to have a productive writing schedule in the coming months.
Now, I am curious. Do you use any special items nearby while writing to help stimulate the creative juices? Do you believe that places can carry energy, positive or negative? Has anyone tried Feng Shui in their homes?
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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 Work In Progress, The Hobo Code, is YA historical fiction.