Tag Archives: writing process

Challenge – Inspired by Dorothy Parker

As I mentioned in a recent post, Dorothy Parker has a number of pieces which I call “monologue stories”.  These tend to be just the inner thoughts of the MC or the MC’s one-side of a conversation.  I’ve always enjoyed reading these as they allow the reader to become fully immersed in the personality of the MC.  You are literally experiencing the events of the story through the MC.  

I have written one of these styled stories before, but it wasn’t that great.  However, I am challenging myself, and anyone else who is interested, to give it a try.  Can you tell an entire story through only the thoughts of your MC?  It’s a lot more challenging than it sounds.  If you need inspiration, you can turn to Parker – Lady With a Lamp, or her more humorous examples, The Waltz or A Telephone Call.  I will see if I can keep mine down to flash fiction length (a constant challenge for me), and post a final here when I’m done.

Happy writing!

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Reading Helps Us Empathize

As writers, we must also be avid readers.  (What a shame, eh?) Yes, we use the excuse of improving our writing to explain the constant burying of our heads in books, but according to studies from 2012 and 2013 it seems reading improves us more than we may think.  It turns out that reading doesn’t just inform us on specific subjects or improve vocabulary and grammar.  It also makes us more emotionally intelligent; specifically empathetic.

Now, if there is anyone reading this wondering how reading can improve the sense of empathy, consider some of you favorite novels.  When I reflect on mine, I realize that The Little Prince has caused me to be more attune to taking notice of the smallest pleasures – a child’s laugh, the breeze brushing through my hair, that first sip of clean cool water when you feel a deep thirst.  I think of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – how easily I recognized the story as an allusion to substance abuse and addiction and felt the chronic strain on both the addict and his loved ones.  I think of how easy it was for me to relate to Steve Martin’s Shopgirl but just as easy to see the perspective of her companion.

One of the studies conducted by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Costano explored further finding evidence distinguishing the “empathetic benefits” of literary fiction vs. “pop” fiction.  Due to the “complexity in stories and their characters”, literary fiction appears to be the clear winner here.  When I reflect on my reading of The Life of Pi, I can most certainly agree.  Not only the beautiful story of the loss at sea, which makes up the bulk of the story, but the final explanation of “what really happened” gave me such a rush of emotion and understanding of what the mind can do to compensate a horrible trauma.
But how does this inform our own writing.  Well, just as our personal experience of places and events serve to help us better describe a variety of settings and experiences, empathizing with well-written characters can only serve as a means of experience.  Perhaps there are many events, tragedies, and celebrations we will never experience, but when we read to exercise our empathetic muscles, we become better able to imagine ourselves in the minds and skins of our characters as we put them in these circumstances.

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A Writer’s Journey: Freelancing – How To Get Started?

I got it into my head quite a while ago that I might like to try freelancing, but figuring out how to get started has been a challenge.  Of course, there is the usual advice, “If you want to be a writer, write”, but just sitting and writing hasn’t been very financially lucrative.  Apparently, having a client to pay you is important to creating an income.  That’s where I struggled; figuring out a way to build a portfolio that was professional, accessible, and substantial.

Then, I got the idea to begin volunteering.  Granted, the motivation for this was altruistic and career-oriented, but most organizations will allow volunteers to dictate (to some extent) their roles based on their interests.  Let’s face it, they know you’re there for free and they want you to enjoy it, so why not have you doing something you enjoy.

Once I told the volunteer coordinator about my interest in writing and proofreading, I started getting more projects based on that interest.  I’m still volunteering, but in the process I’m building a body of work to reference to potential clients, and building relationships with professionals who can refer me to others.

Volunteering is a great way to improve skills, learn new skills, explore career paths, and of course give back to the community.  So volunteer with an organization you believe in.  You never know where an opportunity can lead.

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Practice, Practice, Practice

“Write Write more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing.” -Brian Clark, playwright

In the case of any activity – be it playing an instrument to performing surgery – practice makes perfect. We, as writers, know that writing is no different. Many of you may have a schedule or goal – a number of words per day, pages per week, or simply sitting down to write every day for a certain amount of time. You may choose to spend that time working on your novel, your dissertation, or journaling, but once you’ve finished one project, and you’re searching for your next one, it can be easy to let the daily habit slide. But why do you have to have a specific project? There are so many reasons to write and so many different types of writing, it should be easy to find a good practice format that can also be productive for building your skills.

Description – write an email or letter to a friend or relative describing in detail an interesting event that happened recently. Focus on using imagery to create a clear picture for someone who has never been in that setting or seen the people involved. Help your reader experience the event as you did.

Research – Write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper or magazine. Reading is another important part of being a good writer, and reading about the news of the day helps inform you as a good citizen. So why not take citizenship and writing to their next step. Say something about an article you read. Whether you find a mistake or want to expand, or point out another way of looking at the issue being discussed, newspapers are more likely to publish well researched letters to the editor as opposed to purely opinion pieces with no evidence to back claims.

Persuasion – How do you feel about the abortion debate? healthcare? defense spending? campaign finance? or any number of other hot button political issues? What do you know about your local and federal representatives? If you’d like to see changes in local, state, or federal government you have to let the policymakers know it. Letters to your representatives are a great way to tell them what you think. Your position is to convince them that you have a stake in the issue, know something of what you say, and would like to see the vote or policy development that you are arguing or proposing.

There are any number of other ways to practice writing in various styles and formats.  How do you step outside your usual writing box?

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A Writer’s Journey: Submissions – Part 3

A lack of work, and the daunting task of forcing yourself to write new pieces, or to edit old pieces, for submission can be a terrible deterrent to even trying.  In truth, it has been the main thing that has stopped me from trying to submit over the past couple of years, and even the last few months.  But there are several ways to combat this.

1. Write everyday!  No matter what you’re writing, even if it’s just complaining about not having anything to say, spend three pages (or 750 words or so) bitching about it.  Whatever is going on in your head, your life, at work, around the country, around the world; spend a few minutes putting it down on paper.  If you make this effort everyday, you will be shocked what can eventually come out.  Whether it’s a humorous memory of something that happened in your childhood, or a poignant observation relating to your industry or current events, something is bound to pop out.  Perhaps you will notice a trend in what you’re writing and realize you have a series of little essays that could turn into something.  That’s how I got started with this blog.  So make the effort to sit, and let it all out – dump the contents of your brain for 20 to 30 minutes, and see what happens.

2. Go back to old work with fresh eyes, no matter how old it is!  That poem you wrote in college for the creative writing class you took as a fun but throw-away elective might turn out to have some weight to it, especially after so many years.  Now you are older, wiser, more experienced, improved as a writer, and distanced from the critical young adult that wrote that piece.  You don’t have to worry about how bad the kid that wrote it thought it was.  You, as his/her adult counterpart, may see something that s/he didn’t know was there.  A few small changes, and that poem could turn into something worthy of publication, if it isn’t already.

3. Look for prompts, and read, read, read!  Read the newspaper, visit the library, pick up trade magazines that are meaningful to you, go to book clubs, book fairs, author events, movies, concerts, anything!  There are so many topics out there to write about, and so many publications and websites devoted to each one. We tend not to think of our everyday experiences as something that warrants documentation, but you never know what might come of arguing with the campaign ad for your district’s incumbent representative, or experimenting with a new recipe or workout.  Writing prompts are everywhere. They can be found at your child’s PTA meeting, the jazz club you were dragged to on Friday night, or the display of NY Times best sellers at your local bookstore.  If something riles you, write it down.  Don’t ignore it!

 

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On Research: Google Alerts

I don’t think I’ve said it enough. Research is intimidating. Unless you have a day job that allows you to (a) research your subject matter as a part of your daily responsibilities, or (b) makes you an expert in that particular area or subject matter, undertaking the kind of research to write an accurate novel which story has even one element of something you have no experience with, or to write an accurate nonfiction piece at all really is a lot of work. It can be time consuming and frustrating. You may have difficulty even knowing where to begin.

For me, one of the best tools I have found that has been very helpful to me recently is Google Alerts. Yes, of course it comes from Google. Since the company’s primary purpose started out as a search engine, it may come as no surprise that Google Alerts is essentially just another type of “search engine”. You set up an alert based on a keyword term or phrase, and Google will email you links to news articles, blogs, or other online resources that match your search. It is a quick and easy way to start your research as you look for other sources to rely on.

A few pointers from my experience:

1) Be specific – This is a search, plain and simple, and if you are too vague your search is going to turn up a lot. Make sure you know exactly what it is you want to learn about. Try to direct your search term or phrase as narrowly as you possibly can so that your alerts will be applicable to you. Of course, even if you narrow it down well, there are still going to be links that don’t quite hit the nail. For this, Google gives you an option to give feedback in every alert email, allowing you to flag an article as “irrelevant”. That can also help you narrow your criteria.

2) The more recent, the better – What Google Alerts is designed to do is find articles that provide the most recent new information on a subject. Unfortunately for those looking to write historical fiction, this resource is not likely to do you a whole lot of good. Sure, once in a while you may hit on some new diaries of someone or other that have just been discovered or released by the family estate, but for the most part Google Alerts is going to help those of us looking for new information on things that are happening now, or have happened in the very recent past. (Sorry historical fiction writer. I’m still looking for research tips for you guys.)

3) Don’t be afraid to discard – Some of the information you get through these alerts is not going to be useful. That’s just how it goes. Don’t be afraid to toss aside an article or post that isn’t relevant to you. Let’s face it, another intimidating thing about research is that there is so much information out there that we have trouble weeding through it. That’s what Google Alerts is designed to do – help you weed through the masses. Check out the headline, skim through the article, but if it’s not something you can really use, get rid of it.

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Get The Creative Juices Flowing

It’s amazing where our story ideas come from, isn’t it? The slightest litte thing can spark a new idea. Of course, our own experiences play a big part, but it’s the details of those experiences that will often slide in out of nowhere and prompt a great idea. For instance, I once wrote a short story based on an amazing weather phenomenon that had me absolutely stunned. As a line of showers was rolling in the sky overhead, my house happened to be straddling the line, causing it to start raining in the backyard at least a full minute or two before it started raining in the front yard. I was so shocked I stood in my kitchen bouncing my eyes back and forth as though I were watching table tennis, between the sliding glass door that led to the back porch, and the grand windows in the dining room that viewed the front. That happened years ago – I may have still been in high school – but it made a lasting enough impression on me to write about it over ten years later.

I’ve gotten ideas from a large variety of sources. A song or book title has led me in a direction – usually something different than what the song means. I’ve gotten ideas from quotes I’ve heard. For inspiration on a good crime fiction, maybe looking in the newspaper if you’re stuck for a good crime to have been perpetrated. Even reading the encyclopedia can be a great source; you learn about an historical event, and perhaps try to place your characters in that time period imagining how they would react to it. The source for inspiration can come from anywhere; so when I hear people say, “But what would I write about?” I say, “Look around. You literally have a world of source material at your fingertips. Scoop it up!”

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