Write 4 a Day: 23 April 2017

Write 4 a DayDon’t you deserve at least one day to write?

Write 4 a Day is a new series of monthly one-day writing retreats in upstate New York. While I shall be hosting the events, let me be clear that there is

  • no workshop
  • no agenda
  • no required activities
  • no assignments
  • no schedule
  • no WiFi

Write. Don’t write. Think. Daydream. Doodle. Outline. Come for the whole day or just for part of it; network, collaborate or write solo; wander the woods, hills, fields and streams of Universal Pathways for inspiration (bring sturdy shoes) or sit in a comfy chair and brainstorm. It’s up to you.

WHO – you!

WHY – because you deserve a day to devote to your writing (or daydreaming or sketching or scheming or knitting or…)

WHAT – $22  (cash/check/PayPal – $20 for HVWG members) and a dish to share or your own lunch

WHEN – Saturday April 23, 10am-5pm

WHERE – Universal Pathways, 692 Pleasant Valley Rd, Berne, NY 12023

*Co-sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild

Writer Wednesday: After the Marathon

2014-08-10 12.51.05

I’m heading down to London today for the first of two conferences with my pal Debi. It signals the end of my sabbatical and all the writing it has engendered. More importantly, it means I have to leave Dundee and those I love here, but I’m going to stick to talking about writing here (if you see me sniffling on the train down to London, you’ll know why).

When you get a great opportunity of time to write, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. I wrote about my first writers colony experience in the same vein. Like most artists, we fight to find the time to create, carving out time here and there. When we’re suddenly presented with extra time — whether it’s an unexpected day off or a week’s holiday or, yes, a year’s sabbatical — it can at first be overwhelming: I must do ALL THE THINGS!

But I learned from that first writers colony experience to give in to my natural tendency to idle. As Jerome K. Jerome reminds us, “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.” So yes, I have idled a great deal as well as accomplished much (a small selection of recent publications):

 

But when the big marathon of writing and idling comes to an end, how do you go on? That’s where I am now. For a few days I’ll have LonCon and ShamroKon to entertain me and then I’ll be back in NY and the semester will be roaring to a start and acclimating will take up most of my energy — and then I’ll feel that pit of despair open up below me. You got too used to all that free time, the voice will whisper, you’re not going to get anything done now. I know better, yet I will hear that whisper and be tempted to give in to despair. Why? Because the truth is plain.

I won’t write as much.

That’s not a reason to despair; I need to remind myself of that, too. I’ll still write a lot. I have learned how to do that and life is too short to moan over what I don’t have (or where I’d rather be). My writing has brought me the wonderful life I have now. There’s every reason to believe that my writing will continue to make my dreams real (and help me deal with the inevitable sorrows of life). Writing is how I live in the world.

Most of all, I will remind myself that it’s all about having fun. And that will keep despair at bay.
2014-08-10 12.51.13

Writer Wednesday: Bear-Baiting

We live in interesting times. By which I mean we live as ever in difficult times; given the state of the planet we can be forgiven for a penchant for weaving apocalyptic narratives. It can be comforting to think that it’s only because we know so much more about what’s going on thanks to the internet and all its social media. You’d be a rara avis indeed if you’ve not seen at least a couple of petitions to save something or someone today, usually with a heart-rending photo.

We have a lot of information at our fingertips.

Of course, having information and managing it are two different things. Some people shut off, leave Facebook and retreat to a lower-tech life. As a writer, that’s a bold choice to make unless you’re already famous (and your publisher will probably want you to be on social media anyway). While giant corporations tussle over who really controls publishing (note: when corporations battle we are not the winners), most writers I know are still reeling from the thought that people on the whole would be glad to give their time and attention to potato salad.

Understandable: the cri de coeur of every artist is to be noticed. Now you may be in the camp that thinks there should be standards about who gets to call themselves artists, or you may be the sort who feels that people should be able to call themselves whatever they like. It’s not as if it matters, anyhoo — because we’re all fighting for the attention of those readers/listeners/sharers of experience and that slice is getting thinner.

Here’s a pie chart from a Slate story about the crushing weight of work days (American; Europeans may adjust accordingly, though the differences are getting smaller):

See that red slice? That’s what we’re all competing for. “We” meaning all us creators and our creations: books, films, television, online videos, social media, etc. All of it. Reading is a high bar to get folks to jump over. It requires more effort than a lot of other entertainments: time, engagement, imagination and the will to sort through the millions of books out there to find one they might like — an increasingly daunting task.

We remember Shakespeare because he was good enough to consistently snag a good number of people away from the lure of bear-baiting. ‘Such a horrible sport!’ I hear you cry. Well, yes, but we can always harden our heart to things we’d rather not think about. But it provided simple, reliable entertainment as far as Elizabethans were concerned. It asked little of them but showing up and letting the spectacle make their pulses race. If it sounds like a Michael Bay film, you’re on the right track.

Our challenge is the same: there’s more bear-baiting than ever. There are more Shakespeares and his sisters, too (or should we call them Aphra Behns?). The small blip of time ( a few decades) where a small number of writers made a great deal of money may not return. The slightly larger blip of many people making a living from writing (about a century) may also have passed.

If you have stories in you that want to be told, don’t let anyone discourage you from telling them. Make money from them when you can, don’t sell yourself short, keep striving, and most importantly keep working — honing your skills, failing, learning and working harder. Because William Goldman is still right: “Nobody knows anything.” That’s why blockbusters tank, television series get axed and people give money for potato salad on a whim. Nobody knows.

The golden age is before us, not behind us. William Shakespeare – See more at: http://quotesnsmiles.com/quotes/40-favourite-william-shakespeare-quotes/#sthash.sJebWCA8.dpuf

The golden age is before us, not behind us. ~ William Shakespeare

If you desire something lighter, try: Ten Steps to Inner Peace

Writer Wednesday: Finishing Things

2013-08-04 12.23.26Okay, maybe the picture is a bit heavy handed 😉 but this is an important issue, one worth repeating. When I mentioned typing “the end” on my latest novel this week, the fabulous academic/comics writer Mary Talbot wrote (perhaps somewhat jestingly), “But do you really just write to THE END then stop? What about the endless revisions and inability to let go?” I do know a lot of writers who hold onto a manuscript for far longer than they should, so let me ask again:

Are you an inveterate tinkerer?

I know some people who have been revising the same novel for years. This is not a sign of craftsmanship. At the very least it’s a sign of delaying — and at worst it’s a sign of neurosis. Certainly part of it is fear: because the next step is sending it out there where it may be trashed, sneered at or worst of all, ignored and rejected by form.

You’ll survive. And the sooner you start building up a healthy level of skin thickness that all creativity requires, the sooner you’ll be able to brush off inconsequential comments and recognise the helpful ones. Constructive criticism allows you to understand how the story in your head is not making it to someone else’s head. Ah ha, you say, I need to spell out a little more here or cut this part that is clear and rejigger this other section.

No matter how long you’ve been writing, you’ll need to keep receiving and evaluating feedback. And you’ll be less crushed by it — and chances are, you’ll also be a much better writer. So why are you still revising that story/novel/script? Because you think it’s not done. Why are you wrong?

1) It’s as good as it will ever be.

This is likely true if you’ve been revising for a long period of time. What’s ‘long’? Well, that is tricky. I get bored really quickly, so my revision periods tend to be short. Times vary. If it can be measured in years it’s too long! Seriously. Send it off and see how it goes. The news may be good — and an editor may have specific suggestions for a last round of tinkering. Let editors do their job! That’s why they’re there. It can be better once you’ve had some objective advice.

2) It’s just not good.

When you spend a lot of time on a story, you become invested in it. This is one of the things that leads to endless revision. Sometimes you write a story and then recognise, “Hey, I just copied my favourite writer’s brilliant idea” or “This was just my revenge killing of X” (it happens) or “wow, this is a real cliché of epic proportions” (literally). Revising it will not help that basic fact. Make a folder called “The Trunk” and put your story in there. You will not ever use anything in the trunk, but when you look through it on days when you feel dispirited, you will realise how much better a writer you have become.

3) You can’t seem to actually write an ending.

This is difficult, no doubt about it. On the plus side, publishers love writers who can write series that go on infinitely (television even more so). But you need to be able to write a conclusion that gives readers enough of a satisfaction that they can take a breath and feel a sense of closure. If you can’t seem to come to an ending, this is when you could most use an editor, a writing coach or a writers group to help you find it. As your flight attendant will tell you, some exits may be located behind you. The ending may be a few chapters back and you just missed it because you were enjoying your world so much. Find it. Ask for help if you can’t!

Stories have a beginning, middle and end. The writing process should, too. Write, finish a piece, send it off, start another. Or if you’re like me (not recommended), start lots of things at various times, juggle your efforts between them unpredictably, but always finish each one!

And then enjoy a little idleness before aiming for your next goal (always have a next goal).

Barrie Golden

Writer Wednesday: Tracy S. Morris

TracysMorris cropped-pix-258x300I’m pleased to have Tracy S. Morris as my guest today. A fellow Broad, Tracy is not only a writer but a podcaster. She has photographed two of the Presidents of the United States, taken a hot air balloon ride and met two of her favorite sports legends from separate sports. She’s been a photographer, reporter, writer, fencer, historian, costumer, gardener, a black belt in taekwondo, and a self-confessed kamikaze speller. In 2012 she assumed her most challenging and rewarding role: Mommy. Tracy’s first novel, Tranquility was published in 2005 by Yard Dog Press. It was the runner up for a Darrell Award for Best Midsouth Science Fiction in 2006. Her second novel, Bride of Tranquility was published in 2009. It was a finalist for the Darell Award in 2010. Both books were picked up in eBook format in 2010 by Baen Books. When she’s not writing, Tracy goes by the name Tracy Godsey.  She lives with her husband Ryan, daughter Issa Belle and two shiba inu dogs. Ryan is a computer programmer for Tyson foods and administers her blog. The dogs do their best to avoid Issa.

International Branding

Imagine you dropped yourself in a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no map, no compass and the vague notion that you wanted to go to Hawaii.

Do you think you would get there?

As insane as that sounds, that’s how many authors market themselves: by drifting along and hoping for the best. (If you actually plan to do that as a publicity stunt, you need a captain and the knowledge that Hawaii is in the Pacific.) Instead of drifting, you will get a lot farther if you build your brand intentionally.

Let’s start with meeting your public.  

When you go to conventions, are you doing something to be memorable?  Or are you just another head of hair hiding behind Bookhenge at a panel discussion?  Try to craft a look that is uniquely you.  Before he was known for his writing, author Jay Lake was that guy who wore Hawaiian shirts at conventions.  Just remember to remain professional (let the cosplayers wear the chainmail bikini).

Try to keep something handy with your name and website on it (we’ll get into websites in a moment.) Most people expect a business card.  If you want to make sure your information doesn’t wind up in the bottom of a drawer (or worse, a trash can), attach your information to an (inexpensive) item that fans will find useful (like a bookmark, pen or notebook).

In person isn’t the only place to meet your public.

Once, conventions were the best place to meet fans and sell books. But with the explosion of eBooks, fans of your books may never meet you face-to-face.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t engage the fen. Instead, you’ll need to get involved with social media.  That means Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and an Amazon author’s page (also a website and blog, but these days the two are often one in the same).

There are good how to articles out there for each of these, so I won’t go into how to use them in depth.  I will say that you should spend a little bit of money and have a professional-looking author’s photo taken. This photo can do double duty as your publicity still for conventions, your website and your profile in Facebook and Twitter.

For Facebook and twitter, try to post about more than just your promotions and writing. Let people get to know you a bit (but avoid the temptation to over-share.  As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t discuss it with your grandmother or your religious leader, don’t put it out there for the world to see). Be transparent. People can tell when you’re being a phony.

Try to think about the name you are putting out there on your website, Facebook and blog. Use the name you are putting on your book cover, not “Superawesomewriter38.”  You want to convey that you are a real person, and a real writer.

And lastly, do not feed trolls.  Or flame reviewers. If it’s not positive, don’t send it out into the world.

Thanks, Tracy!

Writer Wednesday: The Power of Narrative

Many modern novels have a beginning, a muddle and an end.
~ Philip Larkin

2013-07-09 12.47.44

I demand a story!

In the beginning was the story and the story was good and good was the story and that simplicity escaped no one. From the earliest marks of our kind, we have told stories. We are story-telling creatures. See this bison? We went after this bison and it was a tough fight but we got it in the end and everyone ate and we didn’t die.

We make sense of our messy and incoherent lives by telling stories. Sometimes simple ones: “I went to the store to get some milk but they were out. I just have no luck!” A simple and inconvenient event becomes a story because it has meaning. The stories we tell ourselves make our lives. Think how different the story would be if instead it became, “I went to the store to get some milk but they were out, so I went to the shop further along and ran into Maryann who just got a new job, hurrah! What a lucky day.”

Lawyers will tell you the importance of narrative in what they do (and why so many are English majors): it isn’t enough to show a jury facts. You have to make them understand a narrative about what happened but also why. Pile on the facts and their attention wanders. Give each fact a dramatic importance in the story and it’s no longer a dry recitation but a detail that captivates the imagination.

This is why eye witnesses — so trusted! — are so often unreliable. Yes, they see what happened, but as soon as they begin to describe it, they also begin to turn it into a narrative. As soon as they’ve drawn conclusions about the why it changes the what that they saw. “He was crazy!” leads to “You could see it in his eyes.”

Health care professionals have realised the power of narrative, too, and encourage patients to construct their narratives with care.

I have had a post brewing on this topic for some time as the plethora of slipshod narratives has irked me for a while now: how often narrative is neglected in big budget films especially. Then Alan Moore gave an interview and said pretty much what I was going to say:

“To me, narrative is the most important thing in the world. I deplore the dwindling narrative values of a lot of contemporary culture, where it doesn’t seem to matter if the plot actually makes sense, or if it resolves itself, or if all of the elements introduced resolve themselves.”

I’ve been surprised by the praise for films that I thought were terrible messes of unresolved narrative like Prometheus and just recently, A Field in England, which seemed to garner wild praise despite its almost complete lack of narrative. Now, as I said on Facebook, I am a fan of Argento and Jodorowsky, so I am fairly elastic on the concept of what makes a satisfying narrative — i.e. it doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely coherent, just compelling.

Talking with people about why they liked these films I find that it’s always the case that they have constructed a narrative for the incoherent film. I think that’s the secret of this kind of lazy filmmaking — throw a bunch of images together and hope your audience does the work of constructing the narrative. Often they will, because it is in our genes.

Give me a story, a rich story that rewards re-reading or re-viewing with new discoveries. Feed my head.

Writer Wednesday: Write by Hand

medievalwomanIt happens eventually to every writer, that moment when you stare at the blank page or screen and nothing comes out of the brain even with knocking and/or poking with sharp sticks. There are all kinds of ways to kick the recalcitrant brain pan into action, but here’s a really simple one:

Write by hand.

I have terrible penmanship. I always tell people the only time I ever had to stay after class was for my bad penmanship. It didn’t help. My hand writing is atrocious, but I love to write by hand especially with a nice pen. I left my fountain pens in New York — didn’t seem wise to bring ink on a airplane after all. But I just broke down and ordered a pen and some ink because I love the feel of writing with a fountain pen.

Letters forthcoming, everyone!

I’ve written a lot of things: books, essays, stories, conference papers, etc. Except for the short stories, almost everything began life as notes scribbled by hand on paper. Sometimes good old yellow pads, sometimes on envelopes or scraps of papers, and in the case of conference abstracts, almost always on the back or margin of meeting agendas.

:-}

There’s something different that happens when you put pen to paper. I type on this computer, the iPad, my phones all day long. I need to do it, my hand writing is often illegible especially when I’m rushing. But I know the brain thinks differently when I pick up a pen. Something gets unlocked. The speed and simplicity of typing is great when thoughts are flowing fast; when the words come with hesitation or uncertainty, the pen draws them out in the physical effort of making the letters manifest.

Try it: see if you can’t unlock the words with a pen in hand.

And happy birthday, Tom Stoppard!

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.”