Writing Advice

5 Ways Meditation Can Help Authors

3 December 2018

From The Creative Penn:

I have been a long-term meditator, but I never clicked together how my meditation practice served my writing practice until ten years ago.

It took me going through a ten-year writer’s block, then training as a clinical hypnotherapist to get it. I did not train as a clinical hypnotherapist to unblock myself. It was just one of those wonderful unexpected side effects. It helped me to understand how the mind works.

Until we understand how our minds work, we are slaves to our thoughts. Meditation is one of the paths that can help us become aware of what is going on in our heads. Writers spend a lot of time in their heads and maybe that is the reason why, they have more risks of getting stuck in there.

. . . .

1. Meditation helps you become aware of your thoughts

It might seem insignificant but until we become aware of the constant stream of thoughts that populate our minds, we tend to believe everything we think.

Only by doing a regular meditating practice can we become aware of this constant stream of thinking and detach ourselves from the content of our thoughts.

It is estimated that we have an average of 3,000 thoughts per hour. This is a dense thinking background that can lead us to believe that every thought we have is actually us.

I like to compare it to clouds in the sky. If each thought is a cloud and the sky is full of clouds, then it is easy to forget that there is a blue sky behind all those clouds. We need a reminder that the clouds are not actually the sky. They only pass through.

2. Meditation helps you train your ego

This is a vital part of meditation. As authors, we can only improve our skills if we are open to constructive criticism. If our ego is wounded, and a lot of authors have wounded egos, then the smallest criticism about our work can send us into a spin.

This is what is holding a lot of writers from publishing their books, sometimes even from getting started in the first place. “What if my mother does not like it?” “What if my first-grade teacher ridicules it?”

Ego does not only come out as an aggressive overconfident energy. It often manifests as doubt and fear. By observing our fears and not getting sucked into the drama, we slowly put the ego back into its place.

By doing so, we open the door to improving our work by plucking the courage to write and then when the work is done, to submit it to an editor or a friend and get the feedback that we need.

The more we meditate, the easier this process will be, as the ego will lose its strong grip on our lives.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

Da Vinci Code’s Dan Brown on how to write a bestseller

19 November 2018

From The Guardian:

The piano music is insistent, melodramatic. The scene begins under a vaulted ceiling and medieval candelabra reminiscent of the Great Hall in Game of Thrones. The camera pans across a vintage typewriter, intricately sculpted animals, antique bowl, statuette of a monk and relief carvings of knights. It roves around a dimly lit, dark wood library. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a bookshelf swivels on its axis to reveal a secret passage.

Out steps the master of the page turner in blue shirt and jeans, his sleeves rolled up. He settles into a chair, leans against a red cushion, crosses his legs and smiles. A screen caption says: “Dan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers.” Brown, who has shifted 250m copies of his novels and seen them translated into 56 languages, is the latest big name to join MasterClass, the online celebrity tutorial company (he is donating his fee to charity).

Despite the distinctly old-fashioned format – middle-aged white man dispensing wisdom direct to camera – this is Brown’s love letter to the creative process. The 54-year-old can’t tell you what idea to have, he says, but hopes to provide a roadmap on how to turn it into a story. His class includes chapters on finding that idea, choosing a location, creating heroes and villains, doing research (but not so much that it’s an excuse to procrastinate), creating suspense, writing dialogue and editing and rewriting.

The good news, Brown assures writers staring at a blank page, is that your idea does not have to be startlingly original. Ian Fleming’s James Bond, for example, always defuses the bomb and gets the girl. The key question is how he does it. “Every single idea has been done over and over and over,” Brown explains in the film. “You don’t need a big idea. You need big hows.”

Like parts of a car engine, the key elements of a thriller include a hero, a goal, obstacles that seem to make it impossible and, of course, a moment when the hero conquers the villain. Don’t get overcomplicated, Brown urges. “Build the foundation of your novel with a single brick: make it simple, make it easy to follow. Will Robert Langdon find the virus and save the world? Will Ahab catch the whale? Will the Jackal shoot his target?”

Among his first lessons are the three Cs: the contract, the clock, the crucible. “These are the elements that not just thrillers have but all stories have,” he explains at his publisher’s offices in New York. The contract is the promises made to the reader that have to be kept, so earn readers’ trust.

“The idea of a ticking clock: you go back to even something as gentle as The Bridges of Madison County. Her husband’s coming back in a few days and these two people have got to figure out if they’re going to be together. If they met in a town and there’s no husband coming back, and there’s no ticking clock, it’s not an interesting book.”

And the crucible? “That’s one of my favourites: this idea of constraining your characters and forcing them to act. If you look at the end of Jaws, you’ve got these people sinking on a boat and a shark’s coming toward them. The ocean’s their crucible: they can’t go anywhere, they have to deal with the problem. If they had a perfectly healthy boat and some big engines, they could just outrun the shark and the book’s over. But they’ve got the crucible.”

. . . .

His early books made little impact and he began to question whether he could make a career of it. But then he came up with The Da Vinci Code – in which Harvard code specialist Robert Langdon discovers a series of cryptic clues in the works of Leonardo – and thought it the exact book he would like to read; millions agreed. Published in 2003, it became one of the bestselling novels of all time and was turned into a film directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks.

Does success like that become a burden? “I definitely had a number of weeks when I became self-aware. You type a sentence and say: ‘Wait a minute, how many millions of people are going to read that?’ And you read it again and see the word ‘there’. You suddenly say: ‘I didn’t even spell that right.’ You become the guy trying to swing the baseball bat who’s thinking of how to move the muscles and you’re crippled.

“I think that’s very common across many disciplines when you have success. I was fortunate pretty quickly to be able to say: ‘Wait a minute, you just need to do what you did the last four times, which is to write the book that you’d want to read and if you read this paragraph and you’d like to read it, you’re done.’ I was able to move on from that and write The Lost Symbol, which I was thrilled with and did great and a lot of people like it better than Da Vinci Code.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian


What kind of self-destructive perfectionist are you?

12 November 2018

From Fast Company:

Perfectionism is on the rise in younger generations, according to a study published in the Psychological Bulletin. Researchers from the University of Bath and York St. John University in the U.K. measured three types:

1. self-oriented, the irrational desire to be perfect.
2socially prescribed, perceiving excessive expectations from others.
3. other-oriented, placing unrealistic standards on others.

Between 1989 and 2016 self-oriented perfectionism increased by 10%, socially prescribed increased by 33%, and other-oriented increased by 16%.

“Perfectionism is a pretty rampant problem,” says time management expert Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-Mail In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work. “It may be worse in an era of social media where everybody’s posting the most curated, best, perfect lives and achievements. We’re constantly [surrounded] by the best way, the perfect way, the right way in our personal and our work lives.”

Seeking perfection can create paralysis that hurts productivity, says Morgenstern. “You procrastinate to distract yourself from a big scary task,” she says. “You can end up wasting so much time, beating yourself up later. That insecurity undermines your confidence.”

. . . .

“The biggest obstacle for the perfectionist is letting good enough be good enough,” she says. “A perfectionist doesn’t even know what it means to not be perfect. They don’t know what good enough is. It’s an all-or-nothing way of evaluating things. Work is amazing or a disaster.”

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Murder, She Wrote

7 November 2018

From CrimeReads:

Jon Land is the prolific, award-winning, and USA Today bestselling author of 45 books, including the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series, among others. In addition to suspense / thriller fiction, he’s written a number of non-fiction books. After the death of Donald Bain, Jon took over the reins of the worldwide bestselling Murder She Wrote books, based on the long-running television series starring Angela Lansbury.

. . . .

Mark Rubinstein: What was it like working with Donald Bain when you began collaborating on this series co-writing A Date with Murder?

Jon Land: The expectation was that I would work with Donald on a number of books, but his health deteriorated after our initial collaboration. Our brief contact revealed his passion for the series and the importance to him that the series continue. Both Don Bain and Berkley Books gave me the freedom to make the series my own. They didn’t micromanage me. They recognized that I brought something different to the series. Don understood that the Murder She Wrote books belong to millions of people, and I share that sentiment.

Before taking over the series, I’d never penned a mystery, or written in the first person or from the viewpoint of a non-action character. It’s given me the opportunity to explore new realms as a writer.

Speaking of mysteries, what are the differences between mysteries and thrillers?

The best way to encapsulate the differences is to say this: a mystery is about figuring out what happened. A thriller is about figuring out what’s going to happen and stopping it because the protagonist’s own life is often in jeopardy.

Although these are cozy mysteries about the familiar environs of Cabot Cove and have a lighter touch than most thrillers, I think I’ve brought a thriller element to Manuscript For Murder. In this third installment, Jessica’s life is in jeopardy. While Jessica is still doing what she always has—solving a mystery—I’ve lent a bit of a harder edge to the series. It now leans a bit more toward Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series.

. . . .

I know you’ve written about a female protagonist in the Caitlin Strong series. What is it like writing from a first-person woman’s perspective in the Murder She Wrote series?

You just highlighted the one thing that scared me when I took over the series. I’d never written in the first-person. I’ve written thrillers which tend to jump around between different points of view. But writing from Jessica’s first-person viewpoint presents a different challenge: I’m limited to what Jessica Fletcher knows and thinks.

At first, it was a bit intimidating, but to get a better handle on it, I read a few of the older books in the series and managed to find Jessica’s voice. I also got a good feel for Jessica’s character from watching the Murder She Wrote mysteries on Hallmark Mysteries. I watched one episode a day to capture some of the ambiance of the series and to gain some insight about Jessica Fletcher.

For the first time in my writing career, I had to ask myself what the protagonist was thinking in a specific moment. What is she holding back? What has she noticed?

Readers are going to see an evolution in the treatment of Jessica whereby I start to show more of her back story and to use more characters and plot points from the TV show. My version of Jessica Fletcher envisions the character as if the series was being made in 2018, rather than between 1984 and 1996.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads

Having No Time is the Best Time to Get Writing Done

7 November 2018
Comments Off on Having No Time is the Best Time to Get Writing Done

From The Literary Hub:

Written into our culture is the idea of the writer as adventurer, or the writer as rake. It isn’t enough that a person should strive to write interesting things. They ought also, we feel, to have an interesting life.

. . . .

I am—insofar as I am anything at all—a writer of fiction: a maker-up of things, someone who repurposes, taking elements of reality and twisting them out of shape. I also have two small children. A garden. I do a lot of washing, and go to bed at half past nine. Where creative transports ought to go, there are only 500 solid words on the page each morning and the nursery run. I am ashamed.

Of course, if we expect our writers of fiction to be as interesting as their work, and if we suspect, somewhere deep down, that people with ordinary lives will only ever be ordinary writers, then we will be given what we deserve: books by a small minority, mostly male, mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly without families, who can afford to spend their lives doing nothing else. The rest of us—the majority who have to fit writing around whatever it is that lets us eat, or for whom writing is a route to eating and must therefore be done regardless of the presence of that dilettante, desire—will only ever, perhaps, be second rate.

. . . .

There are as many ways of writing as there are people who write, but this is my way: by routine, because I have to, because it’s my job, because things are worse if I don’t. I am awake by 6:30, tipped into the morning by the enthusiastic rousing of my children, who come to each day as if it were the only one they had, and by 7am I am at work, still in my pyjamas, in whatever corner of the house is quiet. My partner brings me coffee. At 9.30 he needs to be at his desk and so at 9.27 I stop work, take over the children; and then there is the laundry and the cooking, the picking up of items from the floor, and all the other small battles in the war against grot which children entail. Often, during my two and a half morning hours, I feel that I am trying to wrestle with my conscious mind, to hold it to task when it would prefer to wander, but I can’t wait for inspiration and must rely on the incremental growth of words ground out across a page.

. . . .

Without set hours, without external demands on my time, while I might seem more free, I think it would be at the expense of everything, because I would get nothing done at all. I would drift, and wait, and time would pass, and I would feel, increasingly, as though I had failed. Besides, I love the pattern days have, the way they turn. At the moment my days have the rhythm of nursery runs and naptimes, lost shoes and park trips, and it is not only that the things are necessary in and of themselves, but that I find them, or some version of them, necessary to my work; and, more, at times they are a joy.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

The Poker Table Becomes a Literary Muse

5 November 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Debut novelist Caroline Hulse gets inside the minds of her characters not by working long days at a desk, but by putting in late nights at a poker table.

Ms. Hulse applies lessons about human nature she has gleaned from the game in “The Adults,” a comedy-suspense novel out Nov. 27 featuring squabbling ex-spouses and their significant others jammed into the same vacation house at the holidays.

“People are at their very worst when they’re under pressure,” said the writer whose live tournament poker earnings tally more than $30,000. “It’s the same thing at the poker table.”

Some novelists like Ms. Hulse play poker partly for research. Where there’s “tilt,” the poker term for players who let their emotions rule them, there’s drama. It’s particularly instructive for women writers to watch how men behave when they have a lot to lose.

“I’ve learned a lot about playing against men in the last 10 years,” said Gale Massey, whose debut title “The Girl from Blind River,” a suspense novel featuring a poker-playing heroine, came out in July. “They have particular tactics they’ll use to try and intimidate you. Some are just as nice as your big brother. Or they’ll stare you down or stare at your chest or be condescending.”

In Ms. Massey’s novel, men also play power games at the poker table. The 61-year-old author from St. Petersburg, Fla., got the idea for her novel during a game when a young player puffed up her chest and made a big bet against her. Ms. Massey won the hand, but her opponent stuck in her imagination and inspired her book’s heroine.

Writing a book itself is a gamble. Authors can only hope their hours of work will pay off some day. The nerve required to play the long game is familiar to poker players.

“I thought to myself, ‘If I can walk into ballrooms of mostly men and think I can be the last person standing, I can write a little story,’” said Helen Ellis, whose short-story collection “American Housewife” came out in 2016. “I’d send a story out to 20 places, 19 would reject it, it would go to another place and I’d win.”

Eager to remain a mystery at the poker table, Ms. Ellis keeps her writing life quiet and tells her opponents only that she’s a housewife. The 48-year-old New Yorker, who speaks with the gentle lilt of her native Alabama, has totaled more than $120,600 in live tournament winnings, according to the poker database the Hendon Mob.

This spring, Ms. Ellis debuts her first essay collection, “Southern Lady Code.” She got the book deal with almost no experience in this nonfiction format. “I bluffed my way into an essay collection,” she said. Given all the lying she does at the poker table, writing confessional pieces has been a welcome change.

Novelist M. J. Hyland has been nicknamed “The Stare Machine” by opponents at her local casino in Manchester, England. The 50-year-old writer whose works include the Man Booker finalist “Carry Me Down” said she is not too proud to duck under the table to observe jiggling legs.

“The kind of fiction I write is about sending depth charges down into the inner workings of the human mind and laying bare what makes people tick,” she said. “I think I’m good at knowing what people do next, why they do what they do and why they make the mistakes they make.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Time Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming Got Together To Talk About Thrillers

2 November 2018

From CrimeReads:

The world of mysteries and thrillers has produced some memorable friendship but perhaps none quite so distinguished as the one struck up later in life between between Raymond Chandler, the laureate of American hardboiled fiction, and Ian Fleming, the legendary English author of the James Bond novels. The relationship began when Fleming wrote to Chandler asking for an endorsement that would be used to help market the Bond novels in America. Chandler ultimately reviewed two books from the 007 series—Diamonds Are Forever and Dr. No—for The Sunday Times, and the two authors, both on their way to legendary status, struck up a warm personal relationship. In 1958, celebrating Chandler’s 70th birthday, the BBC asked Fleming to “interview” his eminent friend. The result was a rollicking, far-ranging conversation in which the authors discussed the state of the thriller, heroes and villains, the struggle for literary credibility, and how a murder is planned and executed. It would be the last time the two friends met before Chandler’s death the following year, in 1959. Fortunately, the conversation was recorded and made available by the BBC.

. . . .

What exactly is a thriller?

Fleming: Well, the first thing, really, is to define what we’re supposed to be talking about. I think the title of what we’re supposed to be talking about is English and American thrillers. What is a thriller? To my mind of course, you don’t write thrillers and I do.

Chandler: I do too.

Fleming: I don’t call yours thrillers. Yours are novels.

Chandler: A lot of people call them thrillers.

Fleming: I know. I think it’s wrong.

. . . .

 Villains are tough to write, but they exist.

Fleming: I don’t know if you do, but I find it extremely difficult to write about villains. Villains are extremely difficult people to put my finger on. You can often find heroes wandering around life. You meet them and come across them as well as plenty of heroines of course. But a really good solid villain is a very difficult person to build up, I think.

Chandler: In my own mind I don’t think I ever think anyone is a villain.

Fleming: No, that comes out in the book. But you’ve had some quite tough, villainous people there.

Chandler: Yes, they exist.

. . . .

The elements of a good thriller.

Fleming: I wonder what the basic ingredients of a good thriller really are. Of course, you should have pace; it should start on the first page and carry you right through. And I think you’ve got to have violence, I think you’ve got to have a certain amount of sex, you’ve got have a basic plot, people have got to want to know what’s going to happen by the end of it.
Chandler: Yes, I agree. There has to be an element of mystery, in fact there has to be a mysterious situation. The detective doesn’t know what it’s all about, he knows that there’s something strange about it, but he doesn’t know just what it’s all about. It seems to me that the real mystery is not who killed Sir John in his study, but what the situation really was, what the people were after, what sort of people they were.

Fleming: That’s exactly what you write about, of course—you develop your characters very much more than I do, and the thriller element it seems to me in your books is in the people, the character building, and to a considerable extent in the dialogue, which of course I think is some of the nest dialogue written in any prose today. I think basically we’re both of us to a certain extent humorous too, which possibly might not come out at first sight, but we like making funny jokes.

Chandler: ‘So and so’ is really rather a bore.

Link to the rest at CrimeReads


Why A Daily Writing Habit Improves Your Life

14 October 2018

From Medium:

One of the most important habits that I’ve formed in my life is daily writing.

. . . .

I recommend that to everyone because of these 5 reasons:

  1. Better self-discipline
    Living a life of pleasure is simple. Everyone can “Netflix and chill.” It’s easy to “hang out” all the time. But those easy things will not give you inner satisfaction. The reason that we don’t do anything useful with our precious time is that we lack self-discipline. But when you write every day, you strengthen your discipline. You can use that better self-discipline to achieve virtually anything in life.
  2. Improving you persuasion skills
    Writing is nothing more than persuading the reader with words. But your tools are limited — you can only use words to tell a story. And when you write for yourself, you’re trying to convince yourself of your own thoughts. So the more you write, the better you become at persuasion.
  3. Cultivating self-awareness
    Nothing will help you to get to know yourself more than translating your thoughts into words. When you force yourself to write every day, you automatically become more aware of your thoughts. And self-awareness is one of the most important skills that predict career success.
  4. Better decision making
    Too often, we do something without fully understanding why we do it. Think about it. How often do you answer “I don’t know” when someone asks you “Why did you do that?” That’s the sign of weak thinking. Sure, we don’t know everything. But we must aware of that too. And when you write about your decision-making process, you will automatically become more aware of the “why.”
  5. Seeing the power of compounding in action
    When you do something every day, you don’t notice any difference at that moment. You think, “Where are the benefits?” But when you keep doing it for a long time, the positive effects compound. Writing every day will demonstrate the power of compounding like very few other things can.

Link to the rest at Medium

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