Avoidance Techniques from a Master (Week 4 of my Be-a-Better-Writer Reading Program)

Reading multiple writing books at once has my head spinning. This past week, while distracted by my BIG NEWS, I had a hard time making myself sit down and follow my reading plan for becoming a better writer. I do my assigned reading in the evening, but each night I found a reason not to read. Instead, I spent a lot of time with my foster puppies…..

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And I caught up on The Crown and sorted my Netflix que and finished reading Dogged Pursuit by Robert Rodi (hilarious) 6480008 and The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (exquisite). 15705011Next, instead of doing my assigned reading Continue reading “Avoidance Techniques from a Master (Week 4 of my Be-a-Better-Writer Reading Program)”

Guess What?!!

I’m interrupting this regularly scheduled post, to give you an exciting update (at least for me):

Unbeknownst to most of you, I’ve been agent-less for the last year, having parted ways with my previous agent who was a really delightful person, but who just wasn’t a great fit for me for a multitude of reasons that would be unfair to air here.

That said, Continue reading “Guess What?!!”

May the Power of Literature Change Your Life (Week Two of my Be-a-Better-Writer Reading Program)

Okay, I’ve changed my mind.

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This is a picture of my cat Hermoine, because she changes her mind frequently and never apologizes about it (she also sits shamelessly on the heater vent and hogs all the heat in the kitchen). Please do not take note of the filthy floor, focus on the cat.

 

 

Story Genius and Lisa Cron are pretty genius.

After sharing my disdain last week, I take it all back. Digging deeper into this book, I’m finding nugget after nugget of gold.

Maybe I was a bit sensitive after her comments about pantsers (those of us who write by the seat of our pants as opposed to careful outlining). I’ve decided that Lisa Cron actually does have room for pantsers in her heart. At least my kind of pantsing.

She’s not shoving an outline down my throat (at least at this point), but she does want me to know exactly what it is my protagonist wants and what is keeping her from it. The intersection of those points is what she terms the ‘third rail.’

While I may have no idea what’s going to happen in any story I start, I do know my protagonist inside and out and am very certain of what she wants. I even know the first obstacle which will throw her into a tailspin and start my story. After that, though, all bets are off, but inevitably obstacle after obstacle will present itself.

In my novel Girls’ Weekend there were three protagonists (although Cron has helped me see that there is actually an ‘alpha protagonist’) and I knew what those women wanted (even though not all of them did) and what stood in their way. In reality, looking back, that could have been three books. A nice little series. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

So, yeah, enjoying Story Genius.

The other books are also inspiring me, even Donald Maass. Here’s a line I’ve been ruminating on from Fire in Fiction:

“Like a handshake, an opening and closing line can create impressions and expectations. They can set a tone.”

I’ve gone back and begun looking at each chapter and studied my opening and closing lines. It’s one way to be certain my story is bringing the reader along purposefully. He also talks about being certain there’s a purpose in every scene, not just artfully rendered sentences. I’m a serious proponent of that direction, and I chuckled at his line about the purpose not having to be obvious. There’s no need to “squat atop it like an elephant on an egg.” Totally going to steal that line at some point.

And then this from Fierce on the Page:

“This is the power of the written word. As we take in a story that affects us, we meet ourselves more deeply.”

Yes. That’s exactly it.

Natalie Goldberg echoes this sentiment:

“A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive.”

Doing all this reading about craft and purpose and style and function some days makes my head spin a bit and makes me feel like not only do I not know what I’m doing, but maybe I should apply for a job at the new Burger King that just opened in town. But Jordan Rosenfeld was there to catch me when she wrote:

“Trust your gut about what resonates and what does not. Know that you’ll know what to cut and what to keep…..You will find the alive passages, and you can even choose to build on them. Those are the words you are meant to write; similarly, the life that flows is the one you’re meant to live.”

I think she might have more faith in me that I have in myself, but I’ll borrow it for now.

May the power of literature change your life this week.


And now for all the self-promotional whoo-ha (cause this way we can be more connected, maybe even best friends…):

If you’d like to sign up for my not-so-regular-but-I’m-working-on-it newsletter, click here.

If you’d like to check out what else I write or take a peek at my books, hop on over to CaraWrites.com.

If you are a dog-person like me, visit my dog-blog that tells the tales of my family’s foster dog adventures.

 

Week One of my Be-A-Better-Writer Reading Plan

I’m one week into my Be-A-Better-Writer reading plan and I already feel like a better writer. I’m learning a few things and I feel intentional, which is my favorite kind of feeling.

Plus, I really like coloring my notes with my gel pen set. I underline and star and copy thoughts into my notebook and then go back and circle and underline even more in color. Plus, some pages of my journal have little coloring breaks—

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Reading six writing books each day is a bit like having six teachers hanging out in my office with me. I like some more than others. I find myself looking forward to opening some (Writing Down the Bones, The Art of Memoir), forcing myself to read others because I know it’s good for me (Fire in Fiction, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence), and having mixed emotions about the other two because while they captivate me with their engaging style, every now and again they irritate me (Story Genius, Fierce on the Page).

Some of the writers feel like old friends I’d love to meet for a beer and commiserate with about the sad state of the publishing industry. Others feel more like the teacher I had in third grade who was really pretty and let us watch Electric Company during class, but also scared the shit out of me and rendered me mute with her wicked brilliance and condescending confidence.

Story Genius is probably pushing me the most. It’s making me question the framework of the story I wrote this fall.

Fire in Fiction is making me examine the characters in that story. Although Fire in Fiction is also the book I’m least inclined to open if I’m sleepy or unmotivated. Maass uses TONS of examples from books I haven’t read which is frustrating because my sad little brain is overwhelmed with sorting out the story he’s quoting instead of the point he’s making. It’s exhausting. Add to that my feeling of inadequacy because I haven’t read so many of his examples. If I was a real writer, I would have read them, right?

Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is Continue reading “Week One of my Be-A-Better-Writer Reading Plan”

The Education of a Writer

girl-1174539_960_720One of my biggest regrets in this life (and I say that like I have a lot of regrets in this life, which I don’t) is that I didn’t study writing in college. Both my degrees are from liberal arts institutions, so that means I did plenty of reading and writing in college, even took courses on it, but I didn’t major in it. I look back now and I’m not sure why.

As a child, I read constantly, carting home stacks of books from the bookmobile that set up shop in the bank parking lot on Tuesday nights. Each summer before we left for our two week vacation in an un-airconditioned, TV-less cottage at a beach with no boardwalk, movie theater, or mall, my mom would take us to a used book store and I’d fill a brown grocery bag with books and then spend my entire vacation reading in the sun or on the screened in porch once I’d burnt my body to a crisp after a few days.

When I was a teen, I suffered through the self-conscious, angsty, insecurity typical of most teens (although at the time I thought I was the ONLY miserable teenager who hated to look in a mirror). Reading was my escape. I lost myself in books that took me far, far away from my tiny little town where every embarrassing moment and bad hair decision followed you through school with the same kids year after year.

In high school my favorite class was the journalism elective I took repeatedly, writing for the school paper. I loved the students in that class and the obvious passion of our instructor who ran the class as if we were a world-class publication.

Freshman year in college, that first semester in English 100, my wickedly funny professor always picked my essays and stories to read to the class with her syrupy southern accent, cackling as she read. She loved my writing and told me so.

So why I didn’t turn to writing as a career, I don’t know. I suppose I didn’t believe that I could possibly write something anyone would want to pay money for. Becoming a published author was, and still is, exceedingly difficult. It takes vast swaths of confidence in yourself and your abilities, something I was decidedly missing in my youth.

Since embarking on a professional writing career about ten years ago, I’ve done everything I can to educate myself. I’ve taken online courses, attended conferences, signed up for workshops and classes locally, and accumulated a vast library of books on writing. And yet, I still feel uneducated when it comes to writing.

So this year’s resolution is to hit the books. Many of the books I’ve piled around me have barely been opened. My excuse is I’m too busy writing, to read about writing. Pretty good excuse, right?

Not this year. I’m at an impasse in my career. My third novel comes out this spring and what happens after that is anybody’s guess. I don’t have a contract or commitment for my future writing. So, I’m taking this time to avail myself of the knowledge and direction in the books I already have (and a few I bought with the cash my FIL sent for Christmas – thanks Jim!).

I’m hoping to post about what I’m learning here on this blog, offer insights on my Facebook writer page and tweet the real gems on twitter. Again, best laid plans, you know? Puppies and publishing opportunities could sidetrack me, but I’m writing it here in the hopes that you people will hold me accountable.

Here’s my reading list: Continue reading “The Education of a Writer”

Anybody Can Write a Book, Right?

It used to be that if you wrote a story and it appeared in book form, then you were published.

Okay, maybe it still is like that, except now there are qualifiers. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken) question is how were published?

It feels a bit like the battles I stepped into after my second child was born when I stopped working full-time and stayed home to raise children. The working mothers vs the stay-at-home moms. The assumptions flew both ways and were equally unfair and at times, ridiculous. We were all still doing the hard work of being mothers.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about traditional publishing and self-publishing. Continue reading “Anybody Can Write a Book, Right?”

The Unshiny Parts of My Holiday Season

The holidays aren’t just bad for my weight, they’re also not too great for my writing. At least this year I didn’t set any serious writing goals for December. The great thing about this is that any writing I get done (like this post!) is a bonus. The really hard part is that story ideas, snatches of dialogue, and essays wander aimlessly through my mind and I never have time to grab them and pin them to the page.

The other hard part is that when I’m not creating, I’m not happy. I feel anxious. Luckily, this holiday season I have puppies to distract me. Although right now they more closely resemble moles than puppies. They ‘swim’ around with their stubby useless arms flailing, their eyes shut tight, Their little spock ears are basically horns at this point for all the good they do them.

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Still, they’re puppies. So, you know, who can complain?

Not me. Nope.

A big part of being an author is social media and platform. It’s not the fun, shiny, exciting part, though, it’s the stressful, time-devouring, awkward part. Of course, you can be a writer and never even go near the internet, but if publishing is on your list, platform is paramount and begging for ratings and reviews is a painful reality. Sure, I wish I could just hole up on my hillside and write. But as my mother would tell you, “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.”

So, this month, hoping that the holiday happy and the presence of puppies will counter it, I’m focusing a bit on my platform and social media efforts. These tasks require short bursts of energy – chores like tidying up the website, responding to blog comments, getting involved in passionate debates on Facebook, visiting Linked In to see what the adults are doing, experimenting with the timing of tweets, looking for connections with other authors, and even venturing into new realms like Instagram.

These are tasks that I never seem to have time to tackle, but I’m on it. I’m even making an effort to unearth the Tumblr blog I created several years ago and abandoned. I’ve been reading other blogs, commenting on posts, and last week I spent nearly forty minutes trying to figure out how to change a few things on my Amazon author page (I never did manage it). December is basically spring cleaning time for me as a writer. And who actually likes spring cleaning? Me, neither.

This week’s goal is to apply for a residency somewhere, submit a few pitches to magazines, and seek out an opportunity to guest blog. Oh, and investigate the possibilities of goodreads a bit more, experiment with my blog template, organize my pictures for social media, and finally finish reading The Fire in Fiction (which I started more than a year ago). My list is long and for the most part, boring.

Luckily, I’ve got a silly 13-foot Christmas tree that makes me giggle every time I pass by it on my way to the kitchen to make more tea.

Plus, puppies. Super cute. Always available.

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So I’m slogging through. Hope your holiday season is unraveling/unfolding just as nicely!

p.s. Last week I finally put out my very first NEWSLETTER! That ones been migrating from to-do list to to-do list for over 2 years, so yeah, big accomplishment. If you didn’t recieve it, you better sign up (just in case I ever write another one!). And if you’re interested, you can read it here.