Sometimes Instinct Should Take Over the Story
Working with writers is a very fun job. I do it all day, every day. In my "day job", I am editing and proofreading for agricultural economic publications. For WOW! and my freelance business, I critique a lot of fiction--mostly novels. What I've come to learn through these experiences is that sometimes... we think too much
We do not allow instinct
to take over the story (or article or poem or blog post...).
What do I mean by this?
We all know the mechanics of writing--and many of us work endlessly to get our structures perfect. Examples of this would include: do I have a 3 act structure? What is my inciting incident? Is my meter correct? I'm not going to pretend like these characteristics of poetry and prose are not important or that if you don't eventually pay attention to them (or work on improving your craft), it doesn't matter. These issues do matter. These matter if you want to get published or receive raving reviews.
But the problem is that we become bogged down with structure and technicalities, and then completely overthink. This causes writer's block. This causes manuscripts to remain unfinished. This causes us to decide writing isn't "fun" anymore. And this is when you have to let your instinct take over.
You are a writer. You are a reader. You know what makes a good story because you've read something or probably several things that made you fall in love with words and want to create your own works of art. So when you find yourself bogged down by questions like: am I beginning in the right place? Is my repeating line strong enough in this villanelle? Do I have enough build up to my climax?
Especially if you have not finished your first draft.
Take a deep breath and remember those stories you love. Take one of your writing sessions and write down all the things you love about them. Here's what I do. I ask myself these questions:
- Why have I read Harry Potter over and over again?
- Why do I buy everything J. K. Rowling writes about him?
- Why have I listened to the audio books and watched the movies?
I need to remember what I love about these novels and how she drew me in, and then write my own work based on this joy I've felt. You can do the same with something you love.
I'm not saying that you should never worry about structure or tension or form or plot. You should. This is why you have a critique group, beta readers, instructors and editors. But if you find yourself in the trap of feeling like you aren't enjoying writing, then this could be why.
So trust your instinct. After all, it led you into this wonderful world of writing for some reason--don't fight it.
Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, writing coach and instructor, living in St. Louis, MO. To read more about her and her published work, check out her blog at http://www.margoldill.com. To sign up for her WOW! online novel writing class, check out this link. The next class begins on April 7.
Instinct photo above by Jan on Flickr.com
Labels: fiction writing, Margo L. Dill, poetry, writer's block, writing inspiration
Meet First Place Flash Fiction Winner, Susan Moffson!
is an aspiring writer continuously honing her craft through classes at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver, CO, and her wonderful writing group, the Quillers. She has been working in the field of international development for nearly 20 years, much of that time spent living and working overseas in Africa. The past 6 years she has worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Jhpiego, the lead partner in a consortium implementing a global health project called the Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP). She has written several work-related blogs about the positive impact of this maternal and newborn health program on the lives of many women, children, and families and has realized she is a journalist at heart. She continues to write fiction, pulling from her time abroad, to capture the incredibly rich and varied cultures she has been fortunate to experience.
interview by Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Fall 2016 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?
I heard about it from somebody in my writing group, the Quillers. I loved the stories I saw published on WOW and used those for inspiration.
WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, The Shiny Black Shoes? It’s a compelling piece that I imagine you’ve drawn from some of your work experience.
Thanks! Yes, I worked in Rwanda and when I would go to the University town of Butare, outside the capital, I saw lots of street kids and learned about their daily struggles. Seeing those kids really affected me I think because I was feeling maternal at the time and eventually got pregnant with my first child, a daughter. I guess I thought it was important to show the myriad of issues they face, and how a holistic approach is needed to help them.
WOW: I think you captured that well in your story. What’s your revision process like? How much editing did you have to do on your flash fiction piece?
I workshopped this piece with my writing group, which was hugely helpful. It took me a while to capture Kosera (main character’s) point of view in a consistent way.
WOW: It's interesting to hear how your winning entry came together with some group feedback. Do you have any writing goals in mind for the rest of the year?
I just want to continue writing about my time in Africa (and elsewhere)- in the comfort and freedom of fiction (versus memoir)- to convey the complexity of life and challenges there, as well as the beauty.
WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Susan! Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?
I know it’s a bit cliché but I always come back to writing what you know. I feel like there are details you can incorporate from having lived things that seem fresh and interesting to others!
Our Spring Flash Fiction contest is OPEN
For details and entry, visit our contest page
Labels: Contestant interview, Fall 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, first place winner, Susan Moffson
What I Learned About Marketing From Staging a House
A few months ago I mentioned I was trying to clear out my home office (and home!) because we were preparing to sell the house. Fast forward a few months and our home is now sold and we’ll be moving into a new one in mid-April. It was not an easy process getting ready to market our house, but lucky for my realtor I’ve watched a lot of HGTV. After the dust had settled (literally), I realized that a lot of things I learned about home staging could also apply to writing and marketing my own work.
Get rid of the excess.
We boxed up many of our possessions to give our home an uncluttered feel. In fact, I packed up so much stuff that I had to go back to our storage unit to find some décor items to give our home back a little of its personality the day before we took photos. There have also been times I’ve had to trim the fat off my writing, too. You know what I’m talking about—a scene where a character goes on and on talking about something that isn’t even essential to the storyline. Or a flashback to bogs down the flow. Don’t think about it—just cut the excess and move on.
Think about how you want your readers to feel.
After signing with our realtor, it was clear he wanted potential buyers to walk into our home and feel like they were in a brand-new house. This concerned me at first, because our home is 18 years old. Eventually, we came around, opting for fresh, neutral paint in every room and new carpet upstairs. It was an expense we didn’t want to cover, but it made a difference in the way the house looked and smelled. Buyers felt like they were walking into a new and updated home. In the same vein, think about how your want your readers to feel. Do you want them to read through chapters of your work, confused and muddled because you haven’t spent the money to hire an editor or shared it with a critique group to get honest opinions? Of course the answer is no.
Act like a professional.
Our realtor insisted on professional photos of our home as well as a video tour as part of his marketing package. To make the most of this, I had a friend who is a home stager come to my home and make suggestions on how we could make each room look its very best. It was amazing how the little details like colorful throw pillows, fresh flowers, and antique books stacked on the fireplace mantel made all the difference. When I submit article queries, I try and make sure the language is concise and professional, with relevant clips and an engaging call to action. I also recently updated my website to give it a fresher look. If I want to make money with my writing, presenting myself as a professional is non negotiable.
With proper staging, our home was under contract in two days. It was worth living through the weeks of renovations, packing, decluttering, painting, handymen, and countless trips to home improvement and décor stores.
For writers and editors, packaging and “staging” your own work is just as important. What ways can you present and package your own writing and/or marketing materials to ensure you are published or hired for the job?
Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is looking forward to creating a new writing space in the near future.
Labels: home staging, marketing your work, ways to package your writing, writing advice
The Nonfiction Proposal: What You Need to Include
Way back when I first started writing for
children, I was told that agents wanted to see a proposal on nonfiction vs the
entire manuscript. I didn’t submit to
agents back then so I didn’t write proposals.
Now that I’m submitting to agents, I was
happy that the first several I approached wanted pages 1 – 10, 1 – 30
or the first three chapters along with the query letter. But when I didn't get a "yes" from this first group of agents I realized that batch 2 all wanted a proposal. I didn’t panic.
I don't have a proposal ready to go although I do know what goes into one. It isn’t nearly as scary as you might think. Here
are the basic sections:
Overview: This section is several paragraphs
long and includes the specs (title, word count and hook), short description of
the subject, target market and why the book is needed. Since I write for young
readers, I include the age of my reader (8-10 years) as my target market
This broader look at the target market discusses who will by your book. You
are proving that there is a large enough market to interest a publisher. My current book deals with a
STEM topic so I will mention that. Maybe your book appeals to gardeners,
doomsday-preppers or 4th grade teachers. Say that and give the publisher some numbers.
What methods can be used to get your book into the hands of those
discussed in the Markets section? Include
cyber-methods, public speaking, and traditional media. What are you willing to do to help market
Competing Books: You should know about the other books on your
topic published in the last 5 years. What is already out there and how does your book differ?
About the Author: What in your experience and expertise makes
you the ideal author for this book?
Include a professional head shot if you have one.
Outline: List your chapters and summarize
each. When I do an outline for Abdo, I
include chapter subtitles and sidebars as well as a brief description of each section. And I do mean brief. Each outlined chapter is normally about 12
Sample Chapters: Advice on what to include
varies, but what I’ve seen listed most often is 3 chapters or 25% of the finished
book. And, yes, it means you have to have written that much.
A proposal isn’t a herculean task although it
is something we writers seem to avoid whenever possible. Hopefully this information will help you
get started so that you can get your work in front of the many agents and
editors who want a proposal vs a finished manuscript.
Labels: nonfiction, nonfiction proposal, writing a proposal
How Do You Effectively Communicate in 2017?
I was going to write a profound article about how dreams are so important in our writing lives and how I endorse napping as a work event. Then I changed my mind and was going to write something about not letting the opinions of others determine how you feel about a book, your work, yourself, etc...and use a catchy title or quote from Gone with the Wind (ie: "Frankly, My Dear, I don't give a damn
." ) and as I was pondering, I heard a noise outside the kitchen window. I'm easily distracted so I went to check out the noise (and put on the kettle for a cup of tea) and here is what I found (see pic on right):
I spent a good ten minutes watching these two and decided that it's time we have a chat about effective communication. These two are still at it outside and boy are they loud...but in the time I watched them, I was very confused about what was going on. The cat on the left is a pregnant female and the cat on the right is a young male. They are screaming at one another and the male is clearly the aggressor as you can see the female is backed into a corner. She isn't helpless however and she isn't backing down. Both tails are still wagging happily and their ears are upright. At first glance one might think he is courting her but keep in mind she is already pregnant. I still have no idea what they are doing, and I have no intention of going back to become a cat psychologist. However, these two are clearly communicating with one another and that's what matters most.
The cat fight left me asking myself:
Have you ever had a disagreement with a friend? Are you the Rory Gilmore who wants to talk it out and make it all better or are you Lucy who needs some time to yourself to sort things out? (from Season 7 of the Gilmore Girls). Are you always one or the other or can you be both? Have you ever had a miscommunication with a co-worker, associate, or friend? Could that miscommunication been avoided with effective and clear communication? Could you say something differently or do something better that would eliminate or reduce these errors in the future?
I think we can all agree we've had a communication breakdown at some point in our lives and the human race as a whole could benefit from clearer communication. My head is still spinning trying to figure out how we do this though.
When I was growing up, effective communication wasn't quite as tricky as it is today. We had telephones (and they were connected to the wall if you must know), letters (that were stamped and mailed), in person conversations, and then these intricately folded notes we would pass back and forth in the halls at school. If you were talking on the phone or speaking in person you could watch someone's body language or listen to the tone of their voice and know if your message was being received in the way you intended it. With our written letters and notes, you could read and re-read what you wrote to make sure it would make sense. These aren't fool-proof and we still had disagreements and communication breakdowns, but they were few and far between.
Fast forward to 2017...
I'm not even sure how to effectively communicate in the present age. There's snap chat, twitter, facebook, messenger, tinder, texting, instagram, and the list goes on and on. I recently offended someone and lost a long time friend because she thought an article I wrote was about her. Even though I explained that it wasn't, the damage was done. A simple social media post can be interpreted many different ways (- especially if you post those vague updates that are seeking attention but that's a different article entirely).
I'm here as a mother, writer, businesswoman, friend, daughter, and wife...and I'm begging of you - leave some comments, suggestions, and ideas of how I can effectively communication in 2017. How can I teach my children to effectively communicate? What works and what doesn't work?
On a side note, the cats have resolved their issues and my tea is delicious. Enjoy your weekend and thanks for being such awesome readers, writers, followers and friends!
Crystal is a secretary and musician at her church, babywearing cloth diapering mama (aka crunchy mama), business owner, active journaler, writer and blogger, Blog Tour Manager with WOW! Women on Writing, Publicist with Dream of Things Publishing, Press Corp teammate for the DairyGirl Network, Unicorn Mom Ambassador, as well as a dairy farmer. She lives in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin with her husband, four young children (Carmen 10, Andre 8, Breccan 3, Delphine 2, and baby E due this fall), two dogs, two rabbits, four little piggies, a handful of cats and kittens, and over 230 Holsteins.
You can find Crystal riding unicorns, taking the ordinary and giving it a little extra (making it extraordinary), blogging and reviewing books, baby carriers, cloth diapers, and all sorts of other stuff here, and on her personal blog
about turning life's lemons into lemonade!
Labels: communicating, effective communication, emailing, friendships, frustration, miscommunication, relationships, social media, texting
Friday Speak Out! Balancing my Passions
by Abby Blinn
Writing is my passion. A passion that takes my complete focus and concentration. No matter the topic or length of the article/story, my full attention to that project is crucial. However, in the busy life of a parent of various aged children, working from home, time to devote my full focus and concentration on any one thing for any amount of time is rare and often fleeting. “All things in moderation”, you say? My children and husband don’t always feel the same when it comes to their time with me.
To clarify: I love my kiddos and my husband more than life, they are my reason. However, to be the mom and wife I want to be and the mom and wife that my brilliant, insane family needs and deserves, I have learned that I need that therapeutic time all alone to recharge my battery. My favorite escape? Writing. Whether it is writing an article on something familiar or perhaps something that I’ve never researched before. The chance to create worlds and submerge myself in a life of fantasy or historical excitement. Fan fic, taking an adventure while I control what happens next, or...well, the possibilities are quite literally endless!
Finding time to devote to these sanity saving literary adventures, and not so adventurous articles, is difficult. Writing while multitasking other parts of my life is sadly not a skill that I possess. It is also not something I can create a schedule around. If the inspiration and the ideas aren’t there, there is no forcing it. I find frustration in constant interruption. There is no private space for writing while I balance my job as a mom/wife/chauffeur/maid/cook/etc. Learning to be flexible is an ongoing work in progress.
The compromise that I have found, over time, that works best for me is to do my research when I do not have time to dedicate to writing my ideas or opinions in story or article form. I always carry a notebook to scribble ideas into as they pop into my head so I don’t lose the often elusive inspiration when it presents itself! So, when that precious and exhilarating moment of inspiration hits AND I have time to sit down and create, all my notes and research are right there and ready!
Real talk: I have stayed up all night with music in my ears while everyone else slept, just to get everything out of my head before that inspiration slipped back into the wind to travel to the next writer waiting for it. I always end up with writers hangover the next morning, but zero regrets.
It sounds so easy while explaining it, but this is my daily struggle between the two passions in my life. My amazing family that gives me purpose and unconditional love while making me completely insane and my writing that helps ground me by giving me wings when I need them... while making me completely insane.
* * *
Abby Blinn writes for the passion of it. Realizing her love of writing and creating stories at a very young age, that passion stayed constant through many life changes, finding inspiration in all things. Though writing novels is Abby’s ultimate goal, she values participation in freelance writing and editing for the incredible community of fellow artists and to keep her "writing muscles" strong. Her other passions include, goofing off with her family, the outdoors, world-fusion dance, and the fantastical world of video games.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
Labels: Abby Blinn, Friday Speak Out, juggling family and writing, passion for writing, writing and parenting
The thing that happens
I've written about beginnings before, but this semester I had a realization. While teaching my journalism class, I was discussing the proper way to begin an article, which for hard news (not feature stories), is usually the inverted pyramid style.
The idea of the inverted pyramid to is get all the information up front, so that if a reader stops reading after the first paragraph or two, or if a story gets cut in a print publication due to space (also known as: an ad comes in and needs that space) he or she will have enough information about the story to understand it.
To do this, reporters use the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. You can also throw in an H for how if necessary. Using this style gives all the facts up front, and then explains them in the paragraphs that follow. For example:
Arson is suspected in an early morning fire that destroyed the Smokey Hills Restaurant in Springfield today. Fire fighters from three districts were able to exterminate the blaze within four hours. No one was injured. Damage to the 8,000 square-foot facility is estimated at $6 million. Owners say they will rebuild.
By using inverted pyramid, the basic facts are covered in a short space. If the article were to continue, the reporter could add more details and background information including quotes and stories about the events planned there that will need to be relocated, or how it affects those in the community. An interview with the owner and a firefighter on the scene could give the article some interesting insight.
When writing hard news, the ending comes first. It's the answer to the question what happened? As I was talking about this in class, I had a sudden realization that fictional works are created in the opposite manner.
Fiction usually starts before the climax and works toward it, slowly building tension and conflict as characters and a ticking clock move toward the main event of the story. As we read through the chapters, we learn about motivation and watch characters develop along the way, perhaps giving us insight into the psyche of an arsonist. At the end we experience the thing that happens.
Lately I've been thinking about structure, and the way stories unfold. Are they teased out by the writer as he or she drop hints here and there along the path that is the plot? Or, do they start with the thing that happens, and work backward?
Writers can use either technique to uncover a story. I am always looking for ways to improve writing, regardless of genre, and because I write fiction and nonfiction, I'm going to experiment with both strategies to strengthen my own writing. How about you, what techniques have you used to tell the story?
Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. She also works as a freelance writer, editor and speech coach.
Labels: and how., Inverted pyramid style, news style, the five Ws, what, when, where, who, why