Writing Advice

Teacher Lady vs. Scrappy Writer

24 September 2017

From The Porch Swing Chronicles:

When I retired five years ago, everyone assumed I would fill my time with writing projects. Those who know me well know I’ve been squeezing writing into the nooks and crannies of academic years for more than two decades, and writing full time was something I’d long dreamed of.


I pursued that dream for the first year I was retired, putting writing first. I still taught, but at the community education level where courses lasted only a few weeks and preparation was less intense. For the first time, my role as educator shrank in comparison to my role as writer. I actively sought writing opportunities in old markets and brainstormed new ones, all the while working on my novels and whipping my blog into shape.

It was fun while it lasted.

One Sunday morning, I opened an email that changed the direction of my life — again. The opportunity to teach at a local college came out of nowhere and once more, the role of educator rose to prominence, my writing persona crushed under the weight of textbooks, PowerPoints and student rosters.

Strangely enough, that was okay.

. . . .

Scrappy or not, my writing persona has some commitment issues.

Link to the rest at The Porch Swing Chronicles

Here’s a link to Lisa Lawmaster Hess’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Starting Your Day on the Internet Is Damaging Your Brain

23 September 2017

From Medium:

I’ve said before the first 3 hours of your day can dictate how your life turns out. And this often begins with the very first thing that you decide to put in your brain. You can either start you day with junk food for the brain (the internet, distracting apps, etc) or you can start the day with healthy food for the brain (reading, meditation, journaling, exercising, etc). When you start the day with junk food for the brain, you put yourself at a self imposed handicap that inhibits your ability to get into flow and prevents you from doing deep work. When you start the day with health food for your brain, the exact opposite happens.

Anytime I start my day with junk food for the brain, the quality of the day goes down. I’m less happy, focused, and productive. I spend a ton of time on the internet and don’t get any real work done. But if I start my day with health food for the brain, I find that my mood is better, I’m happier, more focused and productive.

. . . .

If you woke up in the morning, smoked a cigarette, ate 2 donuts, and washed it down with 2 cups of coffee, it wouldn’t be surprising that your physical performance is subpar. You’re probably not going to go out and run 2 miles or win a prize fight after that kind of breakfast.

But when it comes to our brain, we’re not nearly as mindful about the idea that we should treat the information we consume like the food we eat.

“When you wake up you’re in this theta alpha state and you’re highly suggestible. Every like, comment, share, you get this dopamine fix and it’s literally rewiring your brain. What you’re smart device is doing especially if that’s the first thing you grab when you wake up and you’re in this alpha theta state, is rewiring your brain to be distracted.” — @Jim Kwik

If we start our days by checking email, instagram, or the internet, we keep reinforcing the behavior of distraction until it becomes our new habit.

. . . .

As Mark Manson so brilliantly said, cell phones are the new cigarettes, And a significant amount of what’s on the internet is nothing more than junk food for the brain.

. . . .

When we read on the internet, we tend to scan more than we read. How often do you sit around at a dinner party discussing the amazing article you read on the internet? Almost all of my ideas for what I want to write about have come from books. Almost none of them have come from reading articles on the internet. I’ve even found in my cases that when I read a physical book that I previously read on Kindle, I tend to get far more value out of it.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG isn’t certain whether there is any valid science behind this, but, if so, his brain is in bad shape.

However, he disagrees about getting more value from a physical book than an ebook. For him, the experience is different, but comprehension, retention, contemplation (if it’s that kind of book) are at least as good with an ebook.

What Video Games Can Teach You About Storytelling

15 September 2017

From Writer Unboxed:

It wasn’t so long ago that the venerable and brilliant film critic Roger Ebert condemned video games as something that could never be art. His reasoning was that video games must be won—they’re competitive, points-based, and are… well, games.

Here, if nowhere else, Ebert was wrong. Games don’t have to be about levelling up, shooting bad guys, or amassing points—sometimes, they’re simply interactive experiences, and can tell incredible stories in a way that no other medium can.

Such games can teach us creatives a thing or two about how great storytelling relies on exploiting the medium you’re working with. Just as games rely on sound, vision, and interactivity, books rely on words arranged in a linear order. Writers don’t often think about how they can get the best from this limited form, but they should.

I’m going to look at three video games released in the past decade that I think have told their stories using innovative, unique, and startlingly effective methods that often rely on the kind of emergent, player-driven storytelling only possible in games. From there, I’m going to extract and distil any lessons that I think writers will find useful in crafting written stories.

. . . .

 Dark Souls (2011)

On the surface, Dark Souls looks like any other fantasy role-playing game. There are knights in armour, big monsters, fey women talking about prophecies… But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll uncover a fragmented, vague narrative that must be pieced together by the player. In this sense, the player is more of an archaeologist than a reader, tasked with piecing together clues to learn what your character’s role is in the game’s melancholic world.

As the name suggests, it’s a dark game, but it’s also remarkably intelligent. It explores some heavy themes: human frailty, nihilism, Nietzschean existentialism… and has been read as an allegory for overcoming depression and, conversely, for the futility of human endeavour. How does it manage this?

Well, partly through its vagueness. Dark Souls allows the player only peeks into its rich lore, and it’s up to the player to stitch these snippets together. As such, finding meaning among the clues becomes a subjective and highly personalized experience that each player will have their own opinions on, just as they had their own unique experience playing through the game…

And this leads me to Dark Souls’ greatest strength and to the lesson that writers can take away. Everything in Dark Soulscomes together to complement everything else—the gameplay encourages the same kind of thoughtfulness and patience that the storytelling requires (it’s known for its difficulty, and severely punishes rash or unconsidered moves); the fragmented nature of the plot reflects the central themes of existential anxiety, human compulsion, and confusion; the themes complement the decentralized player character, who, unlike so many protagonists in fictional media (and especially in video games), is not at the centre of the world, or even of the plot. And, to complete the circle, because that plot is not forced upon the player, the world feels real, living, as if it would continue to exist even if the player was not present (which in turn points back to the game’s central themes).

Dark Souls is a lesson in how to craft a world that feels like it’s not reliant upon the plot occurring within it. It is also a lesson in how the various aspects of a narrative can come together to complement one another and render a text utterly cohesive.

One book that achieves a similar feat is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a novel about (among other things) addiction, the empty dangers of entertainment, and the total noise of modern life. Wallace’s anti-entertainment message is reflected in how the book breaks up the flow of the narrative by constantly sending the reader to the back of the book to check endnotes and in how it structures its multiple plotlines in a way that rejects the standard three- or five-act structures of simpler narratives. Similarly, its preoccupation with the deafening noise of modern life is reflected in its ultra-long sentences, its interest in seemingly unremarkable ephemera, and its thousand-plus pages. It comes together, like Dark Souls, as a work of incredible purity.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

There is a small mailbox here.

. . . .

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

Good Reasons for Writing by Hand

11 September 2017

From Self Publishing Advice Center:

This isn’t another one of those ‘how to write’ posts, it’s a post about the actual physical nitty-gritty of how we go about putting our stories down into words.

Lots of writers now use the ubiquitous laptop – some have even found a way of writing on tablets, and others still, as recent discussions following the recent BEA Indie Author Fringe have shown, have been talking about how they use voice recognition software for dictating their stories.

. . . .

When it comes to practicality though, I have always and still do, favour pen and paper. Specifically fountain pen and leather-wrap journal. It’s what works for me.

Of course writing this way is not without its downsides. Principally there’s the typing it up afterwards (‘though this too does have its own pros, but more of that later).

. . . .

The Advantages of Writing with Pen and Paper

  • Accessibility: Take the pen and notebook and you can literally write anywhere, at any ime, and be putting down your story in as short as time as it takes to flick off the lid and turn to the next blank page.
  • Portability: The leather-wrap journal is the ultimate in portability.
  • Power: It never runs out of battery, or crashes.
  • Legibility: You don’t have to worry about the glare of sunlight on the screen.

I’ve been known to write (as those dreams would have it) for hours in my favourite coffee shop or library, or in snatched moments at the end of lunch breaks at work, or on the bus whilst commuting.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing Advice Center

Alexandra Kleeman on making people feel things

11 September 2017
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From The Creative Independent:

Do you have a structured daily writing routine?

I have an unstructured daily writing routine. On a writing day, I do a lot of things that might seem kind of psychotic taken together. I basically wake up around noon. I have a nocturnal writing schedule, and I spend all day just trying to soak up information, trying to fill myself up so I have something to work from. Then about 12 o’clock when my partner goes to sleep, I sit down and I start writing. I think it’s kind of an unhealthy ritual. It’s an all day ritual. In some sense, it’s totally unformed, but in another sense it takes up the entire day without breaks. I’m always just worrying and trying to wind myself up and work myself into the problem that I’m going to write about.

How often do you journal for yourself?

I always have a journal with me. The journals kind of filter or restrain what I see. I try to only put things in there that exist in the world of the project the journal is intended for. When I’m writing down fiction, I have a separate journal for that, and I try to keep myself from mixing other things in there. When you go and read over it or when you’re stuck and writing a non-fiction piece, and you hit a piece of information that doesn’t belong at all, it can be really jarring for me. So the journals are there for extemporaneous thought, but they’re also narrower than an all-purpose journal. Maybe I need an all-purpose journal, too.

You and your partner, your husband Alex Gilvarry, are both authors. What are some ways you make time for each other’s creative practices?

I had never been with someone who was a writer, too, and I wouldn’t say it’s something I have to have in a relationship, but it’s been really different and really great to be with someone who’s always got part of their mind in their book project, too. It means that you have a person who understands when you’re not wholly present because you have some weird idiosyncratic problem that you created for yourself worrying you in the back of your mind. It means that I don’t feel guilty when I talk about this non-existent, self-created problem over dinner or whatever because it’s really bothering me. It’s not that we always have the right solutions for each other’s problems, but it’s a total freedom to share problems. You don’t worry that your problem won’t make sense to someone else.

. . . .

My parents both write. My dad used to teach me how to write my high school papers standing behind me and watching every sentence I wrote and if it was wrong, he’d say, “It shouldn’t read that way. Go back, delete it, rewrite it.” It was so incredibly frustrating and I don’t think it was a good way to teach, but it definitely got me prepared for a high-level of frustration in writing and that has a lot to do with my process. I get very worked up when I write. I’m a very slow writer. Half of what I write, I delete right away. Another half of what’s left, I delete the next day. It’s a lot of moving backwards and forwards and feeling stuck, but eventually it all accumulates.

. . . .

I think writing was a kind of universal way of processing things that happened. I think some people process visually and they can work out a lot of feelings and a lot of thoughts that they have through drawing or sculpting or arranging images. For me, something exists more once I write it down.

Link to the rest at The Creative Independent

Thanks to My OCD, I Wrote a Self-Published Best-Seller

6 September 2017

From MediaShift:

Whenever I leave a room, I flicker the lights on and off twice. If any object isn’t exactly where it belongs — a dish, the remote, the clock by my bed — then I need to fix it before I can move on to the next thing, let alone leave the house.

Good writers write what they know. But many don’t keep that knowledge organized. I do, because I don’t have a choice.

I know I have some level of OCD. But at this point, I’m not looking to treat it. That’s because I’ve learned to harness it professionally. Without it, I wouldn’t have written a book during a week-long vacation. I self-published it upon return, made six figure profits within months, and turned down an offer from a major traditional publisher — until eventually selling them the reprint rights.

While most people don’t share my obsessions and compulsions, anyone can learn from the steps I took to write and publish in little time.

. . . .

Make Distractions Impossible

A lot of people who want to write books get too busy with other tasks. I gave myself no choice.

My writing process began on a flight from Sydney to Singapore. I was sitting in a bulkhead coach seat, and had no wi-fi.

I hate flying. But when I work, I get into a mental zone in which the task before me has to get done. So I forget I’m on a plane.

I spent all eight hours of that flight writing the outline. Each folder became a chapter. Within the notes for each chapter, I put bullet points and ideas. By the time we landed, I had a 15-page outline.

. . . .

Know, And Be Established In, Your Market

Specialized how-to business books of about 30,000 words can do quite well. This is particularly true when you sell a book about selling — to people who sell. I knew this about my market.

Just as importantly, I had established myself as a known quantity within my niche: where sales and technology meet. Through my work at Sales Hacker and the big conferences I was running, I had built up the right connections who would help spread the word. And I had a substantial e-mail list that would make initial marketing a breeze.

In my professional community, Amazon is generally the first place people turn to for books. So I hired an editor to format it and made it available on Amazon, as e-book and print-on-demand.

Soon after, I received an offer from a traditional publisher. But I saw no reason to give another company the vast majority of the money.

Link to the rest at MediaShift

You Create Your Own Lessons

5 September 2017

From Medium:

When we fail or refuse to learn the lessons we are supposed to learn, they reoccur. Reappear. Debut in different forms and get stronger and stronger.

What begins as a raindrop on our heads turns into a cloudburst of rain. If we deny its messages, it becomes a thunderstorm. Still not listening? Look out for a hurricane, a tornado and an accompanying tsunami.

Life is made up of lesson after lesson. When you ignore the lesson, it builds more powerfully, so it can be heard, learned, amended as necessary.

Link to the rest at Medium

3 Simple Steps to Silencing Your Inner Critic

30 August 2017

From Medium:

During a recent creative strategy session, I witnessed what psychologist Carl Jung referred to over a century ago as “an inner critic or judge who immediately comments on everything.”

I had given a team of young executives a thought challenge as a right-brain warmup exercise. Although they were unsuccessful in landing on the elegant solution within the time allotted, one individual pulled me aside during the session break to tell me, rather sheepishly, that the solution had immediately popped into her head, but she hadn’t raised it with the group.

I was keen to know why she had remained silent.

“It just seemed easy and obvious,” she began, “but I’m not very good at these kinds of things, so I figured my idea was too simple, and couldn’t possibly be right. I almost said something, but the stress got me.”

She had rather tragically surrendered to her inner critic, and in so doing squelched her creative instincts to the detriment not only of herself, but also her team.

Nearly everyone has experienced this inner critic, and there is a good reason for it: scientists now know the neurochemical reaction that triggers it is integral to the adrenalin-fueled threat-protection system in our brain which not only governs our fight-flight-surrender response but also enables us to learn from our mistakes.

Think about the first time you experienced the emotional sensation of stress from being socially rejected or ridiculed: you quickly learn to fear and thus automatically avoid similar and potentially stressful situations of all kinds.

But while the threat-response allows us to learn from mistakes and keeps us feeling safe, secure, and certain, it can go too far. In fact, fMRI studies have shown that our threat-protection system is triggered even when there is no actual external threat, but just us being self-critical. Researchers at Kingsway Hospital in the UK concluded that if we are overly self-critical, we may attack ourselves, put others down, or seek some form of escape to, as they put it, “flee from the knowledge of our own faults.”

. . . .

But while neuroscience may have the explanation for our inner critic, and for what I experienced in my creative strategy session, it does not seem to have a fix. One does exist, however.

. . . .

Step one is for her to first realize that she had already made an unwarranted assumption when the solution popped into her head: that something bad will happen if she shares it with the team. In this case, that bad thing is rejection.

Step two would be for her to then come up with a few reasons why her idea might not be rejected: her team may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the problem, her team was suffering from groupthink, the idea simply hadn’t dawned on anyone else yet, or they just plained loved her solution immediately.

Link to the rest at Medium

The 7 Writer Types You Should Avoid Becoming

28 August 2017

From The Chicago Review of Books:

In my thirty years as a writer and editor, I’ve worked with, talked to, and corresponded with thousands of writers, in addition to observing their interactions and words online. Many I’ve taken as exemplary of how to lead a productive, imaginative, and ethical literary life. But, as in any field, it’s also clear that writers often work against the flow of their own efforts, create conflict where none should exist, and are as adept in their own lives as in their stories of creating narratives that are actually fictions. All of this is instructional, although you wish it wouldn’t have to be. But the truth is that people aren’t machines and we’re all a bit less rational than we let on.

. . . .

Sometimes when I mention how much structure I apply to my creative life, it translates to other writers as somehow being artificial or too focused on career. Others will argue that writers should just write and not think about these things, that they just come with time…even though some of the worst offenders are habitual and are still engaging in destructive behaviors late in their careers and even though some of the writers saying that can say it because other people are doing the strategic career thinking for them.

. . . .

So here are a few writer types that I personally find useful to avoid becoming.

1. The writer in a core genre who, for example, continually yearns to be taken seriously by the literary mainstream but who in all of their social media rovings never seems to actually invest any time in exploring the literary mainstream and/or doesn’t even seem to like anything in that realm. And then blames the mainstream for ignoring them. (Corollary: The writer who complains the New Yorker will never publish them…but has never submitted any fiction to the New Yorker, or any literary magazine.)

. . . .

3. The writer who wastes time seeking favor from gatekeepers who just will never like their work rather than investing that time in allies or work-arounds.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Review of Books

Why a Party is a Perfect Literary Device

25 August 2017
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From The Literary Hub:

I’ve always liked parties. As a child, I remember crafting intricate handmade invitations to my birthday party through the long summer holidays, covering my hands with glitter and glue and leaving scraps of colored paper trailing across the kitchen table.

. . . .

As an adult, this fascination with parties has continued. My first job out of university was as a journalist for a gossipy newspaper diary—the British equivalent of Page Six—and I was sent out, night after night, to various glitzy events where I had to get celebrities I’d never met before to tell me something salacious.

Once I’d got past my initial nervousness, it turned out to be fairly easy to get famous people to talk to me. Often, they didn’t know anyone there either and had just been invited to lend the guest list a quixotic glamour. Other times, they were barricaded behind an invisible forcefield of fame and no-one else was bold enough to approach them. They would admit to me all manner of things, these shiny, beautiful people: that they were shy; that they didn’t get that movie role they wanted; that their father didn’t speak to them.

I was supposed to be filing stories, but I never wanted to break their confidence, which made me a pretty rubbish newspaper diarist. But what it did do was to sharpen my observational skills. During my 12 months in the job, I found that most people had a projected party persona, which was often at odds with the real person beneath.

The duality of parties intrigues me still. It’s why I set my new novel across the course of one evening at an ostentatious 40th birthday party in the heart of the countryside, where the great and good of the British establishment have gathered for one evening of bacchanalian fun.

. . . .

At a party, there is a constant shifting strain between who someone wants to be and who they really are—the party self they are projecting and the real self they want to disguise. As a the night wears on (and the drunker they get) the gap between the two states narrows to ultimate convergence.

For a novelist, that’s a delicious prospect. It’s why the party has always provided such a brilliant backdrop for writers. The Great Gatsby is the obvious antecedent for literary parties. Jay Gatsby’s parties during the long, hot summer of 1922 epitomize the spirit of prohibition-era decadence: endless champagne, chorus girls, flappers and bootleggers. F. Scott Fitzgerald is superb at nailing the casualness of the rich and the way in which one can get lured into their careless orbit. My protagonist, Martin, is also an outsider dazzled by wealth and belonging. He craves acceptance, and yet this is the one thing that will always be denied him.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

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