Tag Archives: Love Your Art

Filling Up That Uninspired Empty Feeling

 

Feeling empty as an artist?

When people say that you need to fill up, they are tapping into a well-loved metaphor about the artist. The artist, we’re going to assume, has a lot to say. They have emotions and connections, stories and accounts, worldviews and interpretations,  images and sentences. An artist pours out their art for the benefit of the hearer, the viewer, and the reader.

But in order for them to pour themselves out, they must have something in their heart, mind, and souls first. They need to be filled up before they can empty themselves out into their art.

Where do they get their inspiration?

Currently, I’m reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith. This is a complicated, multi-layered book. To say it’s about two black dancers in England in the ’80s is ridiculously simplifies it. Our main character is inspired by a childhood obsession with early dance by African Americans in film. She fills herself up with these images and the facts behind them so that later — much later — it turns out, she can pour them back out into other art. Her values, worldview, passions, emotions, and drive all come out in this artistic expression. The original influence was accidental, yet life-changing. And while this character is fictional, the process is the same for us.

We are filled with all kinds of things.

Our stories come, whether we want to admit it or not, from the things that we know. Our subconscious is at work with each word we put together, collecting the images and memories and values into our artwork. Sometimes when we’re in the zone we can see how beautifully all our inspiration works with us.

And when we’re not in the zone, then we may be facing writer’s block. We may be empty.

Empty? You could be.

Maybe you’re burned out or exhausted. Maybe you don’t have any good ideas. It could be that the idea of writing at all makes you nauseated.

What to do to fill up?

Practice good self-care.

I’ve noticed that if I’m especially cross or grumpy, I may just need a sandwich and a nap. But if the anger goes deeper than that, then I need to get to the bottom of it.

Fill up by reading; you should always be reading anyway.

I’d suggest that if you are empty that you read things you don’t usually read — try something new. I go to my local library’s digital catalog and download a bunch of books I’d never think of picking up and go through them on my phone. It’s hardly inconvenient and if I hate the book, it’s easy to replace it.

Expand into other art forms.

You can be creative in other ways besides putting stories together. Try a new recipe. Find a cool craft on Pinterest. Make something — anything. I believe that this will stimulate your creative process enough. It may even prime the pump. You never know. you may find something just as rewarding to do as writing.

Watch a live performance.

Go to your local theater, or check out what your local community college is presenting. Go without an agenda. Go just to listen to the dialogue and to enjoy the story. The interpretation of the play will seep into your subconscious and help inspire you later, perhaps in an unexpected way. If you can’t see a live performance, go to the PBS.org site and check out one of their performances. You’ll be glad you did.

Listen to live music.

Music feeds the soul. I believe that art is art. And that the creative expressions of one kind of artist will feed the creative needs of another.

Relax.

if you stress out that you don’t have an idea, or that you’re just a hack or that you’re a has been, or the best days are behind you, then you’ll be so tied up in knots that you’ll never receive the good ideas that are out there.

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Show up.

Make an appointment with yourself to write a specific amount of time or words daily. And the muse will find you.

Enjoy life.

Look for positive things around you. It may be that you need to be more deliberate in your practices of mindfulness. Maybe you need to meditate or do a little yoga. Even 10 minutes a day could make a big difference.

Watch different genres of movies.

Streaming allows us to have access to varieties we may never have tried. The next time you’re Netflix-ing, try something new, even for a few minutes. Pay attention to the details of the storytelling. You may come away inspired. My new favorite is Broadchurch. It’s inspired me to write a mystery someday!

The FIRST EVER Conference for 10 Minute Novelists will be held August 9-11, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH. We’re featuring Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Janice Hardy! Come and learn with us!

Write poetry.

Without freaking out about this, think of poetry as the connection of words. You could look for inspiration from other poets, collect words you like or listen to poets read their work aloud.  I find this very inspirational.

Watch people.

I never get enough time watching people. Today I saw a stocker in the grocery store who walked with a floppy gait as if he were wearing clown shoes. At Costco, I saw a man who looked just like Christopher Lee when he played Sauraman in The Two Towers.  If I had my notebook with me, instead of my shopping list, I would have spent more time writing down everything I saw.

Mentor a younger or more inexperienced writer.

Even if neither of you has that much experience, you’d probably find the relationship rewarding. Sometimes just having someone to bounce ideas off of is extremely helpful. My teenagers are especially good at this.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ON THIS LIST! It could be that the reason you’ve stalled is because you don’t think you’re as good as your friend, or you are intimidated by another’s success. Nothing paralyzes a writer more than comparing himself to another writer — she will most often sell herself short. Instead, focus only on you; your strengths, your talents, and your abilities.

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Become less dependent on your rituals.

Admittedly, my Tito Puente playlist tells my brain that it’s time to get busy. I’d also like to always have next to me an iced coffee, a savory snack, hand lotion and a gentle breeze from my open window.  I could also have a nice sans serif font, at 18pt, in a fun color for my document. I could. While these “must-haves” are all lovely, I know that I can write just fine without them. If you tell yourself you can’t write unless your ritual is perfect, then you won’t be writing much. Instead, tell yourself that you can write anywhere and then do it for ten minutes. I think this will build your confidence and help you break out of that block.

Lower your expectations.

I’ve been calling myself the 10 Minute Writer or 10 Minute Novelist for over a decade and still, daily, I have to remind myself that my allotted writing time will not be perfect. Instead of expecting a nonstop hour of work, I should expect a few ten-minute increments and then be happy that I got something at all. This blog post was written in a ten-minute increment. When the timer dinged, I decided a nap was the best use of my time. But that ten minutes, no matter how small, still matters in my writing.

Take heart!

That ebb and flow of your writing? That is normal. Every writer oscillates from being inspired to being dry and back again. Instead of beating yourself up for feeling empty, think about ways you can fill up. And don’t expect one trip to a museum to do the trick. It may take weeks to rediscover your muse. In the meantime, filling up is fun, it’s good for our souls and often it’s not too expensive.

You do have a lot to say. You’ll say more when you fill up the empty spaces.

So go out into the world and discover its marvels and mysteries. Then come back and tell us all about it.


If you liked this post, you may also like:

Nine Questions To Ask If Writers’ Block Has You By The Throat or

How Champion Free Writers Combat The Blank Page


 

 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Are You An Ethical Author? Take This Quiz!

Why in the world would authors need to be ethical? Don’t they make up stuff for a living?

Are you one of those writers that does whatever it takes to get a sale? Are you the kind that responds publicly to a bad review? Do you manipulate your public numbers to look better than you really are? Do you neglect excellence in your writing for the sake of a fast buck?

Of course, you’re not. But you probably know someone who is.

Even if you haven’t, you see this kind of writers everywhere. You read about their bad behavior. You nudge the author next to you and say, I can’t believe they did that. And sometimes, the response you get is, but isn’t there no such thing as bad publicity?

And then,  perhaps you think to yourself: Am I doing this all wrong?  Writers everywhere are behaving badly and getting away with it. Aren’t they?

This industry — writing, publishing, and marketing in the information age — is still so new that good practices haven’t caught up yet. In some ways, modern writers don’t know what is good behavior and what isn’t. I’d like to encourage every writer who reads this blog to learn how to be ethical.

Ethics, at its core, is choosing to take responsible public action out of respect for our readers, our art and ourselves.

So, are you ethical or not?

Are You An Ethical Author? Take This Quiz!

 Get A Pencil! Let’s Take A Quiz!

Number your paper. Write down yes or no to each of the following questions. Keep track. If you look at your neighbor’s paper, then you’re in worse shape than we thought.

1. Have you ever used the words “best-selling” to describe your own books, when what you mean is that of all the books stored in your closet, Your Guide To Amish Zombie Princesses, really has generated the most sales?

2. Have you ever claimed that you were in a professional writers association, like International Fiction Writers Who Use Modems when you let your membership expire in 1998?

 

3. Have you claimed that you sold thousands of copies when really you sold 556 and you just rounded up?

4. Have you ever made up an endorsement for the back of the book, like say, “Taylor Swift called, ‘Your Guide To  Amish Zombie Princesses’ the inspiration for her next album, coming out in 2016″? When the closest you got to Taylor Swift was when you accidentally changed your Pandora station from Muzak to ubiquitous pop tunes?

5.  Have you ever been so upset over a negative review about your book online, that you called your mother and asked her to change it? Or have you ever insisted that a stranger change their review?

6. Have you ever gone online under a pseudonym, say, Mary Jane Smith, and posed as a raving fan of Your Guide To Fighting Off Amish Zombie Princesses, just so you could boost sales and generate buzz and possibly get the attention of Taylor Swift?

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7. Have you ever attacked other authors in the Amish Zombie Princess genre (or any other genre), just so that your book will look better? That’s impressive if you have because there are, thousands, you know?

8. Do you approach other authors privately, making deals to reciprocate positive reviews so that you look better? Do you ever reward someone, like say, promising them they’ll meet Taylor Swift next week at your house for pizza night if they give you a five-star review?

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
C.S. Lewis

 

9. Have you ever taken the work of others, say, Dan Brown’s How To Fight Off Mennonite Undead Queens, and then tweaked it just a little to pass it off as your own?

10. Have you been accurate and fair in your finances? Or have you manipulated your numbers so that you aren’t taxed by all that income that Your Guide To Fighting Off Amish Zombie Princesses has made in 2014?

If you said yes to any of these questions, then you may not be an Ethical Author!!

All kidding aside. Each one of these ‘questions’ were exaggerated to prove a point. Is is possible, and sadly very common, to slip into dishonorable and unethical behaviors for the sake of a sale.

Many of us are new to publishing and have no idea what we should do to promote ourselves. Often our goal is just to gain any advantage we can in an increasingly competitive market. We may feel “creativity” in marketing trumps courteous behavior. Or we may suggest trading reviews with another author, not realizing this behavior could weaken our credibility. We may be so distracted by the elusive promise of financial success that we neglect to nurture our art. Or we may attach our pursuit of fame so tightly to our own identities that we can’t tolerate criticism in public forums. These practices are not ethical. 

I can't encourage you enough: earn your sales and reviews honestly and with integrity.

 We may fear to speak to other authors about their questionable practices because we don’t feel we have either the authority to speak nor a reference point for better behavior.

We may champion “truth” in the words that we write, through gritty characters and accurate descriptions, yet cover up our own discrepancies, create false identities or fabricate falsehoods to gain an advantage in this industry.

Because authors have never had so much freedom. But with freedom, we must accept responsibility for our public persona. This responsibility extends to our works whether self-published or traditionally published. And it includes our relationships with our readers.

This is how to be more ethical:

Love your readers by producing excellent work and allow them the freedom to critique you honestly in public forums.
Love your art by choosing not to cheapen it with slimy sales techniques and shortcuts cuts.
Love yourself by holding your author friends to a high standard of behavior in our public appearances both online and real life.

If you liked this post, you may also like:

7 Ways To Deal With That Dreaded Bad Review or,

Top 10 Reasons Why Reciprocal Reviews Are Unethical


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

You want to improve your writing? It’s oh, so easy and oh, so hard.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if you are reading this blog then you are a writer. Even if you don’t think you can call yourself that, you probably have aspirations for literary greatness, fame, or fortune.

The right kind of greatness, fame, and fortune only comes from those writers who spend their time improving their craft.

By becoming the best writer you can be, then you're more likely to attract readers, agents, and…

How do you get better? Glad you asked!

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

Top 10 Ways To Improve Your Writing

1. Read, read, read.

Read in your genre every chance you get. Try reading the Classics. Read your writing buddies’ stuff. Or read those literary giants that you hated in high school. Don’t just read, breath in language deeply and frequently so that beautiful words are a part of you like oxygen. Need ideas on what to read? This Pinterest board is all about books! 

2. Write. That means write a lot.

Write every day.Make it a ten-minute exercise or 1000 words but have a daily goal and meet it. Rewrite best first lines. Create new characters. Retell an old story. Just write. Need a prompt? This Pinterest Board can help! 

3. Observe.

Sit at your favorite coffee shop and write about every detail you see around you. Or you look at a person and describe them or try to tell their story. Describe the objects around your home. Keen observation skills will make you a great writer. Guess where you can find tips on great observation? 

4. Get a Mentor.

In Online Writing Groups, such as Facebook’s 10 Minute Novelists, you can meet people who are little further ahead of you in your writing journey. Ask them questions. Get them to read your stuff. Receive their feedback graciously.

5. Join A Group.

By hanging around writers who have the same goals as you, you will learn a lot about craftsmanship, character development, plot and setting. Also? Hanging out with other writers is just fun. They rejoice with you when you succeed and buy you drinks when you don’t.

6. Take a Class.

Check out your local library, community college or adult education center for writing classes. Some are even online! By working with an instructor, you will be able to get important feedback and grasp concepts you might not through just educating yourself.  This link has a list of free and not-so-free writing courses!

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7. Read books about writing.

Many famous authors have written books on writing. Check out Robert McKee’s STORY, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, or Stephen King’s On Writing. All of them are my favorites and have helped me improve too.

8. Watch videos.

YouTube has several video classes on creative writing. And K.M. Weiland’s is probably the best. These are an affordable and convenient way for you to improve your story telling skills.

“Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

9. Be humble and teachable.

No matter how much you’ve written or how many books you’ve sold, there’s always room to improve. And even if you were Pulitzer worthy, you’d still need to know about publishing, marketing, and social media. Be open to learning all you can. Arrogance doesn’t go far in this field.

 10. Expect excellence from yourself.

Creative writing is an art. Show respect for what it is,  respect to other writers and respect the readers by doing your best to be excellent in all you do. That means learn the rules of grammar & spelling and taking the creation of stories seriously.

You can become better. Your dreams deserve it.


If you liked this post, you may also like:

A Writer’s Guide To Ruthlessly Killing Your Darlings or

Beginning Badly: Eight Awful Ways To Start A Novel


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

April is National Poetry Month.

Today I celebrate beautiful words.

Regardless of tastes, preferences or trends, I believe the beautiful calls to us.

There is something inside of us that longs for symmetry, for rhythm, for thoughtful curves. Often we can appreciate delicate images that spurn our emotions, that bring out in us the good and noble. We all enjoy art for a variety of reasons, but no one can deny how well-crafted art serves a purpose. Art can point us to the good in humanity, echoing ancient truths. Beautiful art feeds our souls.

As we write, we can organize our words in such a way that their patterns, their meaning, their rhythm, their structure, and their message all sing together.  Beautiful words, in prose, cannot be accidents. Finely crafted words come with discipline and practice. Lovely sentences do not lay on the page passively waiting for an optic nerve to come by and give them life. Beautiful sentences dance — they vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. These words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together.

10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

Beautiful words point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum. They can inflame anger. The right words can render jealously hotter. They can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. Beautiful words can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. At their best, they are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Delicious words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian.

Famous Poetic Words. The 50 Most Quotes Lines of Poetry. Here’s another one I just want to sit and savor. 

Beautiful sentences dance. They vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. Beautiful words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together. They can point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum, inflaming anger, rendering jealously hotter. Beautiful words can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. They can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. They are are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Beautiful words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian. Words pair together like friends to create a private party of emotion and delight.

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Beautiful words play dress up when they are a metaphor, simile or allegory. They toy with their meaning, putting on a disguise, like a fake mustache or a floppy hat to be to the reader something they’re not. Oh, coy words tease and taunt the meanings and the similarities and the comparisons and the reader watches the burlesque stimulated to read more.

Buzzfeed’s Beautiful Words: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in literature. I found them very inspiring.

Beautiful words hide meaning like a treasure, daring the reader to look for clues to the mystery. Beautiful words leave ellipses like bread crumbs that tempt the reader to go deeper into the woods. Is the reader escaping the real world or rushing to danger? Beautiful words will never tell, they’ll just keep looking behind them as they run over limb and log to keep the chase going.

Beautiful words march together in alliteration. Bearing the beat together as brothers in a band, blaring their business to any reader who claps along in the parade. Beautiful words are not democratic. Some words get the short end of the stick. They are the low feeders in the phonetic and etymological gene pool. Those words are edited and beaten and mocked and their superior sisters are given chances to go to the ball.

Writers, you don’t want to miss this!
Grab nearly $1,700 worth of resources for just $99!
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Untranslatable Words. This is a beautiful collection of words from other cultures that can’t be translated into English. I love the illustrations and I also like thinking of the imagination that came up for the need for these words. I also want to put them in my every day use right now. And then I found the same list even MORE beautifully illustrated! 

Beautiful words are parts of a whole. The vowels and consonants are like toddlers in a playground, picking their favorites for the swings or the ball game, holding hands or playing tag. Poor silent E can’t object. Insecure Q can’t go anywhere without U. Lonely Z finds himself picked last for the game. Bossy A tells them all to line up.The words are acrobats, flipping and flying in their palindromes and anagrams. The suffixes and prefixes fly like lost feathers as up they go to the highest of heights.

The Last Words. Huffington Post has a list of the most beautiful last lines in literature that “will make you want to read the whole book.” (Hey kids! Who wants to go to the library with me today?)

The beautiful words are our medium. They are crisp and wide like a crayon or pastel. Precise like a fine pen. Bold like charcoal and pool in the crevasses of meaning like a dab of watercolor. The words are gold and crimson and emerald and cobalt. Rich with facets and karats and sparkle. They dazzle and enchant and when they are put together like beads on a chain, we can wear them around our neck like jewels.

How can you make your words more beautiful?

1. Eliminate the adverbs and adjectives. Stick in a metaphor if you want the reader to appreciate the nuances and features of the noun. Or pick a better noun.

2. Read it out loud. Listen for rhythms and cadence. Add in phrases or clauses to slow things down, add description or amp up emotion.

3. Don’t let sentences start with “There was” or “There were.”

4. Rearrange where the verb and noun are in the sentence but don’t make it passive.

5. Add an element of emotion, especially in the verb choice you make.

6. Use Anglo-Saxon words rather than Latin words. Don’t know the difference? Check out this excellent blog post that explains the difference! 

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
Rudyard Kipling

7. Substitute any “be” verb for a verb that’s specific and vivacious. You know you’ve got a good one when you can see exactly what is happening.

8. Substitute every word for a synonym to see what you come up with. But don’t get fancy. Big, multi-syllable words may muddy your meaning.

9. Combine two short sentences or separate a long sentence into shorter ones. Sentences should be varying lengths. This is a bit hard to read, but you can get the point.

10. Look for weak modifiers like “very” or “some”. If a word in a sentence doesn’t have a precise purpose, take it out. In fact, read the sentence the omit the first word. Read it again omitting the second, then the third. If you don’t miss the word, or the meaning is unchanged, omit the word altogether.  In this point, I can safely omit the words, “weak”, “precise”, “in fact”, and “altogether.” See?

Beautiful words are our medium. We have control over them. We have them lined up in little drawers of our mind and dig through our thesaurus if we can’t find the right one. If we are good at what we do, they are chosen with care and precision. They are picked gingerly from the box and pressed into place with our fingertips. There they do not rest. They are to be re-read and deleted, edited and proofread, taken out and put back in.

I am thankful that I have such a glorious, magnificent, illogical, sometimes unwieldy medium in which to practice my art.

Sometimes I make the words more beautiful.

Sometimes they make me.


If you liked this post on beautiful words, you may also like:

Why Modern Writers Need Poems (Or Why Poems Are The Equivalent of Kale Smoothie) Or, Top 10 Ways Poetry is Better Than Food


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Top 10 Ways To Respect Your Art As A Writer by Katharine Grubb

Thank you, Internet! 

Because of you, I have to do so little work to expose myself and my family to the works of the world’s greatest artists. Gone are the days when we have to pay for parking at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Now, all we have to do is click the mouse a few times and we are seeing, perhaps not perfectly, the art of the masters.

Click the link for print availability

I appreciate this as a writer because I clearly don’t have enough distractions as it is. But I also can appreciate it because I believe that writing is an art. I also believe that like the great painters of western civilization, great writing can be something that can be respected and revered. I believe that inspiration comes from a lot of different places and that exposing myself to great art will touch my soul somehow, and make me a better writer in the long run.

I believe also that even beginning writers need to have a great respect for the art of writing. Just because visual art is cheap and easily accessible doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy it. The same can be said for the art of writing. Just because publishing has never been easier doesn’t mean that contemporary writers should reduce it to something common.

I’d like to suggest that all writers, regardless of their experience and tastes, learn to love their art.

Top 10 Ways To Respect Your Art As A Writer by Katharine Grubb

 

1. If you love your art, then you respect the masters. You have spend time reading the works of great writers, analyzing their style and choices. You’ve saturated yourself only with the best books so that you can be inspired and taught how to be great.

2. If you love your art, you don’t makes excuses for others’ bad works. This is tricky, but if we were truly respectful of the craft of writing, then we would have no trouble being honest in a review on  Amazon.com or Goodreads. We’d point out technical flaws, we’d question the author’s choices, we’d give our reasons for reducing our ratings from four to two stars. We’d be thoughtful and kind in our observations while at the same time backing up our claims.

3. If we are respectful of our art, then we should have no trouble with receiving critical reviews, even the ones we don’t agree with. We can’t leave honest reviews with integrity if we aren’t willing to receive honest ones in return.

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4. If we respect our art, then we have studied the rules of it. Despite popular platitudes in the writing community there are rules to writing. If we respect our art, then we see the rules as helpful boundaries –especially those that allow us to be clearer and better understood, such as grammar! And spelling! If we respect our art, we don’t look for excuses to break the rules. Instead we look at the rules as friends.

5. If we respect our art, then we are willing to put time into it. It is disrespectful to the art and to our readers if we are looking for ways to cut corners in our composition or creation. If we respect our art, we don’t look for easy answers like, “how many times do I rewrite this paragraph before it’s good enough?” The answer is “at least one more.”

6. If we respect our art, then we take the commitment to craft seriously. We read blogs, we read writing books, we go to conferences, we take notes, and we look for ways our prose can improve. You can’t love and respect your art if you are too proud to take correction.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.06.25 PM

7. If we respect our art, then we write every day. Every day! There has never been a concert pianist that didn’t sit down and play for hours on a regular basis. There will never be a great writer that doesn’t slap their butt in their chair and their hands on the keyboard. If we respect our art, then our diligence in regular writing should be like breathing.

8. If we respect our art, then we don’t tie our identity to the current work-in-progress. To respect our art means to allow it to stand alone, separate from us, open to the criticisms and praise of others. As time goes by, and we add more to our finished works, we see it as an entire body of work, with individual pieces that have each had a place in the building up of our careers. The single titles are not big enough to fill the satisfaction of a lifetime of hard work. (I’m not crazy about that sentence.)

9. If we respect our art, then we don’t compare it to others’ works. It is OUR art. We can be inspired by others, but to truly respect art, that means that we refuse to copy or cheapen our work by making it derivative of someone else’s.

10. If we respect our art, then we’re never in a hurry. The best things in life are the things that take time to nurture. Rushing through a story for the sake of publishing it weakens the art process and makes the final creation the literary equivalent of a Big Mac. Take your time. Do it right. Respect and love your reader.

So, what do you think? How can you respect your art? 

What’s Wrong With Art? (A Complaint by Author Katharine Grubb) for #MondayBlogs

Art!

Hey, ART!

What is wrong with you? 

From someone on the outside, you  like something simple. And yet the closer I get to you, the more complicated you are. You’re like a first love, you’re like adolescence, you’re like a cat.

What's Wrong With Art  by Katharine Grubb

I’d like to think that my art comes from  words.

I’d like to think that my ultimate goal is to have something beautiful at the end of all the thinking and rewriting, like a sentence or a novel or a blog post. But more often than not, I stumble into the task. The words slip through my fingers like sugar and all I have is a sticky mess.

Art, why can’t you behave?

Why can’t you line your words up logically the first time, instead of me chasing after your mercurial thoughts? Why can’t you have a black and white answer? Why can’t I see the cause and effects simply? Why does there have to be a mystery? Why do you have to penetrate my soul so deeply?

Why are you so freaking hard?


(Writer scratches head and sighs.

Decides that if art was logical, predictable, black and white, a non-mysterious sequence of causes and effects, it wouldn’t be art.  

It would be math. )


Art, you are spilled paint and dried up markers.

You are the improvisational banter in the kitchen. You are the last minute handmade birthday card. You are the in the thumbing of the rhythm on the steering wheel while I sing Taylor Swift with my kids. You are the loaf of bread I baked this afternoon. You are lofty and unreachable when I think of your associations with DaVinci and Michaelangelo. You are deceptive when I think of Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Baryshnikov who appear to fly. You are down to earth when you inspire B.B.King and Joni Mitchell. Your wit is as quick as lightning when I see you in Flannery O’Connor and Mark Twain.

You are full of contradictions. You are full of whimsy. You are serious and playful. You are hard as a diamond and soft as a kitten. You make Mary Cassatt my comfort food and Bon Jovi my anthem.

What frustrates me about you is our wrestling matches. We battle over the trivial: the names of the characters, the name of the street they live on, the exact motion of their eyes when their lover enters the room. And sometimes I forget, even though I should know better, that you are not always present in the details, but to look for you in the big picture and the details will come. You are what my muse and I have made and often you are as uncontrollable as a newborn child.

Why do I labor so much for you?

 You have consumed me. You have propelled me. You were with me as a child when I rearranged by heart shape collages on Valentine’s Day. You were with me when I tried to recreate Laura Ingalls in my 1970s way. You have always been with me when I thought something was pretty, when I thought something was clever, when I thought something was brilliant. You were there to lead me and move me. You silenced the voices around me that told me I couldn’t. You were the one that prodded me on.  

I see now that you are in me and I am in you.

When I string my words together like beads on a wire I am speaking your language, I am calling out to your children. When I look at my collections of ideas like big messes and piles and want them all the harmonize into something fantastic and special, it’s because I want to please you. When I am seduced by the charms of my muse and follow her to the dark corners it’s you I hope to find. You are the one that created my eyes to see the value in blank canvas, to see the potential in the pallet of colors, to long for more vibrancy and dynamic, more movement and more passion. It is for the sake of art.

Even today when I sit here and feel the rhythm of the keys under my fingertips, I hope that I will form the crude raw materials of what can be fine. I hope that a germ of an idea will take root and grow into something. I’ve seen the sturdy creations in my hands before and they are breathtaking and I am proud, but how I want another one. How I want to hold it in my hand again.

Art, you are my first love. You are my obsession. You are a part of me. 

Oh art, you exasperate and befuddle me, but I love you so. 

Never ever leave me.

Art? Please never let me go. 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward, PTSD survivor, and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. She blogs at www.10minutenovelist.com. She lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her new novel, Soulless Creatures, which is about two 18 year old boys, not vampires, will be released August 2015.

Beauty, Truth, and the Power to Transcend: A Guest Post by Carolyn Astfalk

 

Sometimes we recognize beauty on sight.

Where beauty exists in the natural world, it’s often easily discernible. Other times, we have to dig to see the beauty or observe from a different perspective to grasp its intricacy or totality.

Whether we readily recognize beauty or not, its creation isn’t a slapdash affair. It can be a complicated, messy process that requires deliberate planning, execution, and revision.

Beauty, Truth, and the Power to Transcend by Carolyn Astfalk

However difficult it may be to infuse our art with beauty, it is critical to its acceptance and appreciation. Truth and beauty create transcendence, and it’s transcendence that resonates with readers. Beauty, in its universality, becomes personalist.

“In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”

This passage, taken from Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1999 “Letter to Artists,” sets the bar high for any artist. Writers assemble letters into an inexhaustible number of unique arrangements to create truth and beauty, and in doing so, touch upon something so innate, so universal, that it brings life to the deepest stirrings of our souls.

While writing can and many times should be light, its purpose is not to be taken lightly.

So often in life, we choose expedience over luxury. The shortcut rather than the scenic route. The functional over the ornate. Pressed for time and pulled in a dozen different directions, short and to the point is often better than long-winded and grandiose.

After all, you can appreciate music anywhere, not just in the confines of a spectacular concert hall. You can eat anywhere, not just in a fine restaurant. And you can worship anywhere, not just in a grand cathedral.

So, too, can the words you create and consume be utilitarian. Words are used to describe furniture assembly, medicinal dosage, and technical documentation. But they are also used to profess love, offer prayers, and pour out heartfelt confessions.

Why do I write?
Why I Write: A Series from the authors of 10 Minute Novelists

So accustomed are we to those humdrum uses, that we can fail to recognize and recall the beauty and artistry of words.

In a 2002 message, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote:

“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments.”

To illustrate this arcane point, he follows with an example, one to which many can relate. Then Cardinal Ratzinger recalls attending a Bach concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. He says, “The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s imagination.”

He’s talking here about the existence of God, but even aside from the theological implications, it rings true. Who hasn’t felt the truth in the swelling crescendo of music, the subtlety of a painted likeness, or the recitation of mellifluous words?

Words capture truth and beauty in myriad ways. Not by sight or sound or meaning alone, but by all three.

Words possess physical beauty. It is seen in a looping descender or a graceful ascender. There is beauty in practiced, professional calligraphy and in a loved one’s unique script. There is intrinsic beauty in a recipe written lovingly by the hand of a now-deceased grandmother and in the elementary scrawl of a young child writing “I love you” for the first time.

Words have aural beauty. A beauty expressed in rhythm, alliteration, and sometimes onomatopoeia – a beautiful sounding word in itself.

Words have cognizant beauty. They possess the power to elevate and enlighten, to encourage, and to embolden. Perhaps most importantly, through their truth, they communicate that we are not alone.

That perhaps is the greatest mystery and magic of words. Created alone or consumed alone, in private or public, in silence or aloud, executed by flesh and bone or binary sequence, they exist because another exists. Because truth exists. And beauty exists. If only we have eyes to see it.


 

Carolyn AstfalkCarolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart (http://carolynastfalk.com/category/my-scribblers-heart-blog/) Her debut novel, Stay With Me, will be published by Full Quiver Publishing in October 2015.

 

Top 10 Signs You Aren’t Ready To Market Your Book

 

 

 "An author should always be prepared to talk about their books, but timing is everything. You may not be ready to market."

For the last two-ish years, I’ve had books to sell. I’ve learned a lot about, but certainly not everything, about marketing.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I think a good marketing author is always prepared to talk about their books, but timing is everything. You may not be ready to market.

These are the top 10 signs you need to put your marketing plan on hold for a little while.

1. Your book may not be that good. Do not assume that because you got it on paper that it deserves to have readers. If you have put shoddy work on the marketplace you are being disrespectful of writers, of the art of writing and readers everywhere. Go do what it takes to make it excellent. Need editing help? Check out this page we’ve created to connect you with some amazing editors from around the world.

2. You haven’t made a marketing plan. A plan includes thoughtful strategies on targeting your market, connections with local resources, guest blogs, and many other things. A good marketing plan spans months, not days. A good marketing plan has measurable goals. A good marketing plan is something that you work on a regular basis.

3. You aren’t interested in people. Many sensitive writer types are reclusive J.D. Salinger wannabes who never leave there house and think checking Facebook is enough social interaction for a decade. I get that. But if you want to sell then you’re going to have to get out of the house and talk to people. Readers want a connection to writers. You’ll need to make an effort. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t be surprised that your cats’ Amazon reviews of your book are the only ones you get.

4. You’ve targeted the wrong market. Marketing means finding the right people who are interested in your product and selling it to them. Many newbie writers just think people who read are a good target market. Um, no. A good market is specific. The market for my book Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day are busy people, usually educated and middle class or higher, who are creative. Many times they are stay-at-home moms who want to write around their home and child responsibilities. This market is different from the market for Falling For Your Madness. Because I kind of understand who would like my book, I need to make the effort to find them.

Top 10 Signs You Aren't Ready To Market Your Book

5. You haven’t done any research. Just like nearly everything else we do in this process, you need to learn how to market effectively. You need to take the time to use Twitter and Facebook well. You need to talk to other writers. You need to know what local resources can help you.

6. You’re not good at reading emotional cues. While I’m always prepared to talk about my books and sell my books and connect to readers, it’s not always appropriate for me to do so. If I’m so focused on me that I neglect the others’ around me, then I’m just noisy and I’ll turn off more people than I”ll ever sell to.

7. You have a cheap and amateurish cover. I think that the cover art for self-published books is one of the greatest indicators of blind spots in this industry. Get many opinions before you decide. Trust professionals. Ask artists and designers for help. Let go of your vision and let them play around with it. Study graphic design, even for a little bit, and try to understand why some art works and some make us want to poke our eyes out with a fork.

8. You think that one book is all it takes. If you’ve written something and had no training, no advice or no coaching, then it’s likely that it’s not any good. Best selling writers are those who have labored over their craft for decades. Don’t be so arrogant to think that because you can write a sentence that you can tell a great story and respect the art form of novel writing.

To have your name attached to something of inferior quality insults your hard work and the readers who read it" -- Katharine Grubb, Write A Novel in 10 Minutes A Day

9. You think you’ll make real money. I had a writing friend tell me recently: “She wants to leave her job this summer. She wants to know how long it takes to write a book and how soon will she be getting a livable wage from it.” We both picked up ourselves off the floor from laughing. Most self-published books by unknown authors sell less than 100 copies. Here’s an article by Chuck Wendig that should be a reality check for you about the financial success of self-published authors. Sadly, it’s likely the only check you’ll get.

10. You don’t have much confidence in yourself. This is a tough one to get over, but if your book is amazing and your cover art is gorgeous and you’ve edited it perfectly, you can’t sell a copy unless you believe in you. People are attracted to confidence. Readers will be more interested in you if you hold your head up high. I’ve seen how amazing this is and I’ve conquered a lot of fear in my life. I know that believing in yourself works miracles.

Marketing should be a long-term, thoughtful process. Take the time to do it right and you’ll be more pleased with the results. 

Have you ever marketed at the wrong time? What lessons did you learn from it? 

Polishing Your Beach Rocks: All Beautiful Words Start Out Plain — A Guest Post By Christine Hennebury

‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ – Theodore Roosevelt

Have you ever read someone else’s work and been struck by the sheer beauty of their words? Did you then turn to your own work in despair because it could never match what the other writer had produced? Did the comparison take the joy out of your writing for you?

 Anne Lamott, one of the great philosophers of our time, often warns us against comparing our insides to other people’s outsides.  She’s usually speaking in a more general sense of personal well-being but it applies to our writing as well.  When we compare our messy drafts with someone else’s published work, we are comparing our insides to their outsides.  It’s a cruel thing to do to ourselves because it is not a fair comparison and  it certainly doesn’t help us become better writers.
Polishing Your Beach Rocks A Guest Post By Christine Hennebury
When we see those beautiful words, we don’t have any idea how much work and how many revisions went into them.
There’s no way to know what they were like when they started and how many drafts it took to make them beautiful. It’s like comparing ordinary beach rocks to ones that have been tumbled and polished and set into jewelry. They are the same basic material but there are a lot of unknown factors between the two sets of stones.

That’s why, when we write (or create) anything, it is so important for us to learn to focus on the process instead of the end product.

 We need to get comfortable with creating and we need to let go of our expectations about the end results. When we learn to do that, we can enjoy our writing and produce lots and lots of very plain beach rock words. Then we can choose our favorites, polish them nicely, and set them into something that showcases their beauty.  But without the plain rocks as raw material we will never get the jewelry.  So how do we get enough rocks to start with?
I’m sure by now that you’ve heard about the college instructor who divided his pottery students into two groups – one group’s grade depended upon the perfection of a single pot that they had to submit at the end of the semester. The second group was graded on the sheer volume of the pottery that they produced. It seems like the first group would be the ones producing the most beautiful, skilled work but it turns out that it was the second group – the ones who had freedom to make mistakes, to create ugly pots, and to just fool around with the learning process – who created true beauty.

For writers, challenges like NaNoWriMo, the A-Z Blogging Challenge and the 10 Minute Novelists 365K Club put us in the same situation as the second group of pottery students. 

Those challenges aren’t about producing a small set of perfect words, they are about losing ourselves in the process of writing.  There is something about the structure of a challenge that frees us from the pressure of choosing what to work on and the volume of words required means that we have to let go of trying to polish each one as we produce it.  There’s no time to be fussy and precious about our words when we have so very many to write in a short period of time. These challenges let us push ourselves past the limits of perfectionism and the pressure of creating beautiful words.  Pushing past those sort of blocks is key to our development as writers.  We can’t create beautiful words unless we start with ordinary ones:  it is impossible to polish work that doesn’t exist.

Challenges like those listed above may not have any appeal for you, not everything works for everybody. 

But if you are finding yourself thinking too much about results or getting caught up in a quest for the perfect word, please try to find a way to shift your focus.  After all, there’s no guarantee that your end results will make you happy but when you concentrate on the process of writing, you become much more satisfied with your work.  You don’t want to become one of those people that focuses so tightly on a narrow outcome that the fear of falling short keeps you from writing at all.

I think that the key to creating work you are proud of is to give yourself that freedom to create all kinds of different words – beautiful ones, ugly ones, plain ones, and everything in between.  We all want to create beautiful words – the shiny ones that await us at the end of the writing and the editing and the polishing – but we can’t lose sight of the work it takes to create them.

We all start with plain beach rocks and the beauty comes from the effort we put into them.

 

Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her story skills have improved since then. She makes up stories, shares stories, and helps people shape their life stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
Christine Hennebury
This is Christine Hennebury. You do NOT want to mess with her!
Find out more about her storyfying at www.christinehennebury.com
Read some of her recent fiction at mombie.com/category/writer-dame/storyaday2014/
Chat with her on twitter @isekhmet

How The “There Are No Rules” Rule Can Set You Up For Failure & Mockery

I’m not sure who started the “there are no rules in writing” rule.

It certainly wasn’t an English teacher.

There ARE rules.

Rules for grammar, spelling and punctuation bring order and dignity to our language. There are also rules for storytelling, rules for submissions, rules of common sense, rules of general communication that YOU MUST follow if you want to be taken seriously.

 If you are a writer then your job is to communicate  to your reader.

If you are deliberately being sloppy, apathetic or lazy then the message you’re sending to your reader is “I’m above the rules” or “You’re too stupid” or “Conventions aren’t for geniuses like me.”

In my humble opinion, I’d like to earn credibility, communicate well and set myself up for success.

I also think that if you ignore the rules, then you’re setting yourself up for failure, obscurity and it’s very likely other writers will make fun of you.

How There Are No Rules Can Set You Up For Failure & Mockery
How There Are No Rules Can Set You Up For Failure & Mockery

This is why:

Rules restrict the chaos. Have you ever been in a car accident because someone ran a red light? Traffic rules are there to keep everybody safe. Now, it’s is unlikely that a lack of grammar and spelling rules could send you to the emergency room, but nonetheless, if we didn’t have rules for grammar, spelling and punctuation, we’d have a mess on our hands.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 1.23.50 PM

Rules are like personal hygiene for the written word. You know that guy, that guy, who thinks showering is optional, who believes that toothpaste and deodorant were invented by capitalists who have conspired to convince America about the necessity of their “products.” That guy is not the guy you want to share an elevator with, right?  If you’re a writer, then if you avoid “the rules” it’s like you’re walking around with body odor. Do us all a favor — check your spelling before you leave the house. We will take you far more seriously if you keep your words tidy.

Rules separate the the hacks from the professionals. If you are serious about your writing, and have aspirations to be published, then you should take care to follow not only grammar, punctuation and spelling rules, but also rules in story structure, characterization, plots and genre. Then, if you do that and expect to be noticed by agents, publisher and editors, then follow their rules too!  Pay attention to submission guidelines, write a decent query letter, act professional!  If you really think that your talent is so brilliant that you don’t have to play the game, then you won’t mind the cobwebs in your inbox. Rule followers get in the door. Rule breakers don’t.

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn't feel like it.
A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.

Rules are the first gatekeepers. With all of the millions of books for sale, a reader is far more likely to pick up a polished one than one that thinks “rules are for losers”. You are not e.e.cummings. Yet. Until you earn notoriety and readers, don’t even think about breaking the rules because that’s what you think the cool kids do. The cool kids shine and polish their work because they respect the time and money the readers will invest.

Rules are your friends: without rules, you can’t be a good communicator. The rules are not put there by “the man” to “bring you down”. Whether they are GSP (grammar, spelling, punctuation), storytelling or submissions rules, they are there to enhance your talent, to be your tools in your artistry, and to put your readers at ease. Imagine this blog post without nouns or commas or nice and tidy paragraphs: it would be a hot mess. I chose to follow the rules because I want to engage my readers and make this blog enjoyable.

Rules are not meant to be broken. I’m all for imaginative writing. I love reading a story that’s innovative and creative. There aren’t enough fresh stories around!  But the very best of these new, exciting works are successful not because they broke rules, there are excellent because they used the rules to their advantage. Rule-breaking in the name of creativity or passion is often rebellion and anarchy with a better agent.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 5.04.32 PM

Deliberate rule breakers will not go far in this business. Show me a new writer who says idiotic things like, “there are no rules!” and I’ll show you someone who is going to have a hard time receiving the fact that his thriller is a hot mess, that his characters are not deep enough and his endings are predictable.

Writing is an art. Just like any art, there are conventions and disciplines set up for a reason. Fresh, innovative, creative works are always welcome. Anyone can break a rule and call it “genius”, but true genius comes from those who see rules and works with them.

My suggestion for all you rebels out there who want to be that romantic, passionate, non-conforming writer that shows the world you’ve got what it takes?
 Sit down. Be quiet. Put in your 10,000 hours. Read every craft book you can get your hands on. Write regularly.

And more importantly?

Be Teachable!

Your talent, your art and your readers deserve excellence.

 

Why You Need To Practice Writing Long Before You Publish

It’s really too bad that we don’t have a Quality Control Department for the written word. And Amazon Reviews, sadly, aren’t enough. 

Writing is cheap — anyone can type out a sentence — and because of this cheapness, many people may not think that it’s worth much. Anyone and their dog can publish a book,  so the general public can easily accept shoddy workmanship. Perhaps because I can, with a click of button,  download hundreds of free books, I may have lost my respect for the carefully crafted story.

Easy accessibility does not encourage the practice of good craftsmanship.

 

Craftsmanship is never helped when stupid phrases like “there are no rules to writing” get thrown around like last night’s empty pizza boxes.  This tells new writers that discipline and skill and craftsmanship are not necessary to succeed.  Show me a writer who quotes that repeatedly, and I’ll show you a lazy writer. Craftsmanship is also never helped when badly written tripe will have made it to a best seller list somewhere. Any motivation for new writers to be excellent goes the way of the dinosaur and the diagrammed sentence.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 11.12.04 AM

 I’d like to suggest that those of you who want to be serious novelists, put away (at least for a while) all aspirations of being published immediately. Instead focus solely on your craft. 

Why You Need To Practice Writing Long Before You Publish

Why You Need To Practice Writing Long Before You Publish

You need to grow in confidence. Your brain, your imagination and your fingers need to have obtained that muscle memory that comes with constant creative work. You will see that in some ways writing will be much easier and you will be confident in your work as you keep at it.  Writing will always be hard at times, but through practice, you will have faith in yourself to keep going when the crafting of your novel is difficult.

You need to grow in the rules. Yes, there ARE rules, and if you’re using that as an excuse not to follow them, then you need to go back and practice them inside and out. Don’t even think about breaking them until you can generally master grammar, punctuation, and spelling. After you’ve conquered those big three, then move on the elements of good storytelling, like plot, characterization and structure. These are your tools and blueprint. Only a foolish writer neglects mastery of these. Do you want to look like an idiot, then forget the rules.

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 11.41.23 AM

You need to train your mind to think like  a writer.  You need to think logically, looking for causes and effects. You need to be comfortable with language and communication. You need to feel at ease with words. You need to know how to organize thoughts. Writing begins in the mind and your mind needs practice to think like a writer.

You need to train your mind to think like a story teller (this is not the same thing). A story is more than the logical progression of parts. It is soulful, artistic and passionate. If you are to be a writer and a story teller, then you need to know all of the elements of story inside and out. You need to understand plots. You should be able to recognize the three act structure in the movie you watched last night on Netflix. How do you do this? You read books on writing and great works of literature. Show me a successful writer and I’ll show you someone who has at least one book that they’re in the middle of.

 

You need to train your mind to observe. You need to watch people. You need to be able to describe things. You need to take in details of a setting. Details matter in your stories and if you are trained to observe details and put them in your prose, your writing will be strengthened.

You need to read more. Did I mention that you need to read? Read! Have a balanced reading diet. That means read books from your genre, but also read the greats of the last century, read current best sellers and read non-fiction books on writing or subjects that will show up in your writing. You will never read too much. But if you read too little, your writing will show.

 

You need to write regularly. This may mean finding ten minutes here or there. It may mean having a specific daily word count. It may mean having someone hold you accountable. Whatever it means, you must do it!  There isn’t a professional musician alive who hasn’t spent hours every day of their life practicing. There isn’t an artist in any museum or gallery who hasn’t gone through painstaking exercises. And don’t even get me started on world class athletes. If you want to succeed like the big names, you start by putting your butt in your chair and your hands on your keyboard daily or it is never, ever, ever going to happen.

You need to familiar yourself with greatness. Every week or so, pull out a book you read in high school The Great Gatsby or The Scarlet Letter or Great Expectations and write out a few random paragraphs. See if you can continue in that voice or style. Look at the way that the sentences are structured. Pay attention to the noun and verb choice.  You can learn from the greats if you take the time to pay attention. And then read them. Again.

 

You need to know specifically how to improve. Without question, a good community is vital for the success of any writer for many reasons. If you want to be better, ask your community for help and then brace yourself. You don’t have to agree with every suggestion they make, you do have to be teachable and humble. A good community will gently encourage you to be better. Take their advice. Rewrite your stuff. Take the time to learn from writers around you.

You may need to take a class. You may have local resources at adult educations centers, community colleges, local libraries. You can also find writing courses online. This link has 19 free online writing instruction opportunities. If you are serious about your writing, then invest in yourself and sign up for a class, in a class situation, you can everything I listed above and see your writing improve.

It takes almost no effort to write a functional story. It takes a little more effort to write a decent story. It takes even more effort, more time, more BST (blood, sweat & tears), more passion, more determination and more character to write an excellent story.  

Love Your Art. Do it right.

 

How Do You Discover Your Writing Voice? A Guest Post By Ally Bishop

How do you discover your writing voice?

Sounds like a crazy question, especially if you’ve been writing for some time. But I recently worked with an incredibly talented writer who hadn’t quite nailed down her voice, and when she asked what I meant when I said as much, I realized that it’s something that we rarely discuss in writing circles, nor do we define its hazy boundaries.

So what’s this elusive voice of which I speak? I’m so glad you asked.

How Do You Find Your Writing Voice? A Guest Post By Ally Bishop
How Do You Find Your Writing Voice? A Guest Post By Ally Bishop

Think about the last time you dove into your favorite book series or discovered a tome in the used bookstore by an author you used to love. As you perused the passages, you were once again reminded of how much you adore this author’s style, phrasing, characters, and imagination. The simple act of reading his or her words put you into a new world, a place so real, you could smell the sewers and feel the heat of the sun. The experience moved you, and you added that author to your list of “must-reads.” You keep an eye out for their work and recommended it wholeheartedly.

What grabbed and held you? Sure, a great plotline and developed characters help, but when a writer has that special something, the story comes alive. That’s the same reason why you can pick up a book with a phenomenal story idea, but come away frustrated and not quite liking it, yet you can’t quite figure out why.

Author Ally Bishop
Author Ally Bishop

Your voice is your thumbprint in the writing world. The way you string words together, how you phrase descriptions, how you envision a scene—they’re as unique to you as your facial features. In a world of seven basic plots, it’s the one that sets you apart.

When you don’t have your voice nailed down, you’re never sure if your writing is good. You think you have moments of wonder…but then you go back to the same section, and it’s less thrilling than you remember. When you haven’t developed your voice, you’ll get feedback that reads something like, “the idea was good, but I couldn’t get into it,” or “this book was really good in the beginning, but then it fell apart.”

When your voice is solid, you know when your story falls apart because it stops sounding and feeling like you. The writing feels forced, rather than effortless. It’s that simple.

So, now that I’ve sold you on making sure you’ve got your voice nailed down, how the dickens do you do it?

That’s all I have time for today, folks. Have a great night! I’m here all week—tip your server!

I’m just kidding! Well, sort of. Defining the writing voice is actually a lot easier than teaching someone how to find hers. But if you’re up for the challenge I’ll do my best.

You ready? Here we go.

1.    Stop reading self-help writing books. Seriously. I did that. I read them all. I recommend them to my clients sometimes. They have their uses. But—and this is the key part—they can stop you from writing when that’s what you most need to do. Get thee to your local twelve-step program if necessary, and let’s get to the voice-finding, eh?

2.    Write a lot. And not necessarily your current work in progress. I started developing my voice when I wrote non-fiction. The difference was so stark, I was astonished. My words took on a life of their own, and people responded. Try writing about some painful or frustrating life events, as though you were going to send it to the Huffington Post or New York Times for publication consideration. See what you find. But whatever else you do, write thousands of words, without judgment or pause.

3.    Speak your words as you write them. Sounds silly, I know. But the way you speak is unique to you, just like your writing voice. And saying things out loud forces us to hear the rhythm. It’s one of the most important things you can do to figure your voice out, and I promise, you’ll be surprised how your writing improves.

4.    Outlaw your thesaurus habit. Yes, I see you over there. When you think no one is looking, you feed your need. No one is fooled, my friend. Not a single reader is convinced that you use “pusillanimous” in every day vernacular. And no, I don’t think “peripatetic” rolls off your tongue. Except for rare occasions, like writing a resume, you should never touch a thesaurus, especially when you are still trying to identify your voice. If the word isn’t natural to you, the result will ruin your cadence.

5.    Stop trying to write like other people. I graduated with my M.F.A. from a prestigious, literary-focused program. I rubbed elbows with New York agents and editors; widely published, award-winning authors; and respected filmmakers. I never admitted that I wanted to write paranormal romance. Not I. Nooooo. I wrote mysteries with (what I hoped was) a literary bent. I claimed my love for Shakespeare, got lost in memoirs, and pretended to adore poetry. I spent so much time trying to impress other people with my prose and cultured tastes, I lost what I wanted most: my writing voice. How you write is what other people want to read. They didn’t come to your book because they wanted to read Hemmingway. Your readers want your stories told your way. If you write literary stories, go after it. If you tend towards genre fiction, go rip your characters’ bodices with flair! Don’t let other people’s attitudes about certain kinds of writing affect what you do. You can laugh all the way to the bank when your (well-edited, wrapped, and promoted) book sells circles around theirs.

I know what you’re thinking: how do I know when I’ve found my voice? That’s the strange part—this isn’t a tangible thing that you can measure. You can’t point out hours in the chair and say, THERE—look at that beautiful voice I’ve created! Sadly, it’s not quite that easy, but there’s a secret to knowing that I’ll let you in on.

You just know.

Like you can feel the seduction of the ocean as you near the shore, or the gentle flutter of a butterfly when you finally lay still enough for him to land, your soul will quicken. It’s like having a runner’s high (and yes, I swear, it exists, unbelievable though it seems sometimes). There’s nothing in this world quite like it.

Of course, it’ll show up in your book sales and your reviews, too. When your writing gets the compliments, rather than just your plot and characters. When a reader says they couldn’t put your book down because your words kept them captivated. When your long-time critique partner has to text you their excitement over your story before you’re scheduled to talk.

Your voice: it’s out there, waiting for you to discover its tiny yet incomparable power. And when you have, you’ll soar, my friend.

PS – you still have to outline your stories. You aren’t getting out of it.

 

 

Ally Bishop’s Bio:

When you do something effortlessly and people commend you continuously, you have found your gift.

That’s what I tell people all the time. And it’s true.

I get story. I always have. I started writing when I was eight, on a Smith Corona (the electronic kind — I’m not THAT old). I wrote stories in every spiral notebook I had. Eventually, I graduated to a Mac (yes, I’m one of THOSE people). I imagined new worlds, emotional conflicts, and HEAs while I waited at stoplights or wandered the grocery store. But here’s the thing: I didn’t just dream it up and write it down — I critiqued what I read. I knew when ideas were good and when they stunk. I ran writing groups, judged creative contests, and eventually got two graduate degrees in writing. That’s right: I love it that much.

What makes me a good editor is, ironically, what makes me good as a publicist, too. Because when I read a good story, one that others will love and want to read, I know it. And then I can’t shut up about it. I want to scream it from the rooftops, because it’s amazing, and everyone — EVERYONE — needs some awesome in their life. So when I commit to your work, it’s because I know it will rock readers’ worlds, and that awesome deserves an audience.

Want to reach me? Head over to Upgrade Your Story for outrageously cool editing, social media management, and publicity services that you shouldn’t publish without.”

How Thinking Like A Sculptor Can Help You Write Your Novels 

 

When I was a new writer, I had a lot of misconceptions of how writers wrote.
What Writers Really Do
Yeah. That.

 

I had a mental image of a writer sitting in front of a typewriter with a stack of blank paper next to them. I thought that was how all writers worked. I thought that the first sentence I read in a book was the first sentence that the writer wrote. I thought that the first thought was the best one. I thought that writers had to have everything in their story figured out long before they sat down to write it. I thought writers who were good enough to be published never had to rewrite, revise, edit, proofread or question themselves.

As I learned more about writing, I saw how wrong I was.

I learned that process of writing was hard, that it required heart-breaking and soul-crushing determination at times. I learned that the search for the right thought, the right word or the right image was a common one. I learned that great writers were willing to work and suffer for the sake of excellence and that craftsmanship was a process.

I learned, most importantly, that the final story represented only a small fraction of the work that was done by the author.

Now that I’m a little more experienced, I understand that page 1 of a novel is hardly the beginning of a writer’s journey. The mental image of a puzzled writer sitting at a typewriter isn’t an accurate one to me.

Writing A Novel Is More Like Sculpting A Fine Piece of Marble

How Thinking Like A Sculptor Can Help You Write Your Novels

Like a sculptor, writers start with a big hunk of nothing and end up with something beautiful.

 Good sculptors don’t start whacking and hope for the best. Marble is expensive; a good sculptor would plan the moves of his hammer and chisel carefully. A good sculptor has a plan; he may spend hours consulting experts on proper form, on proportion, on style.  A good sculptor would practice by making sketch after sketch, filling notebooks with different perspectives of ideas. Before a sculptor ever lifts his hammer for that first big wallop, he’d know what he was doing and why.

An experienced sculptor takes big moves in the beginning of his creation. He pounds big chunks away at first until he gets a very rough shape of the idea in his head. Then, his moves become finer and more delicate. Smaller tools are used to make rough shaped recognizable. Soon the sculptor is able to use tools like files and knives to create the detail. Each curve, each muscle, each surface is carefully and slowly handled. Over time, the sides of the sculpture are shaped. It may be a while before the viewer can understand the vision of the artist.

But the sculptor is not yet done. The finest details must be attended too — textures, eyes, fingernails. No detail must be ignored. The sculpture is not finished until every square centimeter of that creation is buffed by the creator.

What Can We Learn From The Sculptor?
  • A sculptor learns from the experts. As writers we need to take the time to learn our craft from experts around us. Our art deserves attention to plot, structure, character, description, dialogue and point of view.
  • A sculptor sketches his ideas in advance. Lucky us, our media, ink and paper, is so cheap enough that we don’t have to worry about our mistakes. But that shouldn’t stop us from practicing.  We should write regularly and grow in skill and confidence so that when we do sit down to draft the novel, we are at our best.
  • A sculptor understands that work that is rushed will show. Good writers are patient writers. They take the time to craft their work well and don’t rush in to publishing just because it’s easy. Our art and our readers deserve to have quality work from us.
  • A sculptor moves around his sculpture, focusing on facet at a time. His work is circular or spiral, not linear. He is free to travel from section to section, improving it as he is inspired.
Now, when I start my novels, I want to think like a sculptor.

I want to review my notes and instruction from coaches. I want to spend time with the outline, the character development, the plot, long before I ever draft a word. I  want to “swing that hammer” with confidence and that only comes with learning. I’m not going sit down with my art and think linearly. Instead I’ll move from big idea, say plot and move into the smaller details, like line-editing.

I had plenty more misconceptions as a writer, but envisioning correctly who I am in the process of the art has been encouraging and helpful.

Writing is art. And the more I work at the process, the more artistic I become.
What do you think? Is the sculptor a good metaphor for the writing process?

Six Great Ways To Love Your Readers

Admittedly, I’m new at this whole author gig. In the last two years , I’ve self-published a romantic comedy, signed a contract for a non-fiction book and started a Facebook group for 10 Minute Novelists.

Love Your Readers. Love Your Art. Love Yourself.
Love Your Readers. Love Your Art. Love Yourself.

It’s only been in the last two year that I have readers! There are people who have read my book, liked it and left glowing reviews on Amazon and I have never met them! I am not only thrilled to actually have taken these people’s money, but also to know that many of them have told me through social media that they can’t wait to read more. This is the best feeling in the world! 

This month, I’m spending a lot of time with the idea of Loving Your Readers. This post is about six great ways to do just that.

#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14
#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14

1.  AN ATTRACTIVE ATTITUDE  I think that generally speaking, people are attracted to lightheartedness. And while there is a place in this world for controversy and strong opinions (perhaps in the books I write), I think our persona as authors should be one of cheerfulness. (This means NO COMPLAINING. EVER.) I know how much I’m turned off by bad attitudes, so I can imagine my readers would feel the same if I were whiny, condescending or rude.

2. AUTHENTICITY Writers are ordinary people who spend a lot of time thinking. We’re not some pretentious, chain-smoking, cat-loving hermits who substitute our stories for actual human intimacy and wear a lot of black. (At least I’m not.) I believe that writers who can show their humanity to others, who can allow non-writerly life to be seen by the public (within reason), who don’t isolate themselves or create a lofty image will be able to identify with their readers. I like to meet people who are real and if they aren’t afraid to show their weaknesses, then I love them all the more.

AnnieDillard quote (1)

3. ACCESSIBILITY  We are so lucky in this age to be able to communicate with our readers. It used to be that readers wrote letters to authors and there were no reviews on Amazon and no one could tweet you. Wise writers should take advantage of these communication methods and figure out what works. This would include, among other things, having an email address on a blog and engaging in conversation.

4. AN INSIDER’S PERSPECTIVE  So, what was your favorite love song from the ’80s?  Our readers can provide all kinds of answers to questions, but we need to ask them! I found while I was writing, that my Facebook fan page readers have great insight, they have good ideas, they know exactly how feasible it would be to hide a laminating machine in a dorm room. Because I’m asking them questions, I’m starting some interesting conversations, think about things in a different way and outsource my research (all of this adds to my authenticity and accessibility!) My readers know I’m up to another story and so when it comes out, they’re all the more excited. Win-win!

This will be the kind of thing I put on my Facebook Page when I release my next novel this summer.
This will be the kind of thing I put on my Facebook Page when I release my next novel this summer.

5. APPRECIATION Readers are why I do this. Every time I find out someone read my book or left a review, I am a little humbled. My readers are taking a chance on me. A $3.99 ebook isn’t a very big chance, but still. Out of the millions of things these readers could read, they chose my book and from the response I’m getting, they are willing to fork over even more. I can’t take this for granted. Perhaps fame and fortune are part of my future. I never want to be so big that I don’t forget who loved me in the beginning. I thank my readers often. You should too.

6. EXCELLENCE (and thus ends the A Alliterative point. Sigh.) If we go to the trouble of writing a book, then we must be diligent in all areas of it. We must take care to make it mechanically sound. We must not cut corners. We must not disappoint our readers with sloppy, unprofessional work. Poor editing communicates to the reader that we don’t care about them. I would hate for my reputation to be tarnished because I didn’t take the time to be excellent.

Granted, ten, fifteen years from now my own experiences may change this a little, but for now, I want to cultivate these qualities as a habit, so that I can continue to have great relationships with my readers.

 What else can you think of that readers want? What do you want as a reader? Which of these is hardest for you? Which of these is the easiest?