From the Director . . . Primary Research: Balancing the Sought with the Serendipitious
Primary research: any type of research that you collect yourself through interviews and observations. Primary research is often undertaken after the writer has gained some insight through secondary research, (also known as desk research) which is basically what other people have discovered and reported
I have been studying the sixteenth century for around ten years and have written two complete novels set in that time. But except for reading primary sources, such as letters and journals, and a few trips to museums, everything I know I learned from books or the internet. I have not personally time traveled.
Now, for the first time since I fell in love with it, I have the opportunity to visit tiny pockets of the sixteenth century, for it is scattered, almost like debris, all over Europe.
My nature is to make a to-do list and check it off. I want to see the Bramante staircase in the Vatican and the ancient, hidden foundations beneath the Strasbourg Cathedral because I have scenes set in both locations.
But I know it’s important not to obsess over a list. I know it’s important to approach primary research with all senses on alert, thinking constantly: might my character have seen or heard or tasted this? And if so, what would his reaction have been?
I know that, if I pay attention, when I return home to integrate this research into the novel, I will find that the majority of the good stuff I discovered was not on my to-do list.
Your setting may be your own home. You may be creating a character based upon yourself. Nevertheless, approach it as a primary researcher. Seek what you know you need but also recognize what is laid before you unsought that will amp up your story’s authenticity. As writers, we seek the truth, but we also recognize it when it appears unbidden.
Village Writers ~~ Stronger and Better Together
From the Director . . . Where Writing Can Take You
LAST SUNDAY, I was in pursuit of a word — a word I had seen in the description of a painting at Crystal Bridges. I knew that this word, which describes the connection of the viewer to the artist via the art, was important to my next novel about the German artist Albrecht Dürer. So I returned to the museum in search of that word.
But I never made it. I tripped over a curb in the parking garage, knocked myself silly, broke my shoulder, and took an ambulance ride that I don’t remember.
What made this even more horrific was that I was only a week away from leaving on a trip to verify years of internet research. I had m
ade arrangements to view historic sites not open to the public, conduct interviews, and live for a week in the city where my novel takes place. I had made arrangements for my mother’s care and Traveler’s care and bought a new suitcase, dadgummit.
My broken arm is in a little sling that feels vulnerable, but I have decided to go. I will be accompanied by Village Writing School Board member Stacy Murphy. I’ll be posting and blogging on my website and personal social media about the trip from a research standpoint.
Stacy will be writing as a travel writer. Have you ever thought you’d like to write about the interesting places you visit, whether they are around town or around the world? For the next four weeks, Stacy will have a brief column in this newsletter on what makes a great (i.e., publishable) travel article.
Because you never know where writing will take you.
From the Director . . . Why You Should Be Keeping a Journal Dedicated to Your Book
Journaling is all the rage right now, and much has been made of the value of a writer’s notebook to record ideas and inspiration. Whether or not you journal about your life or keep a notebook of writing ideas, you definitely should be keeping a journal DEDICATED to recording the ongoing creative process for each book.
Why a separate journal? Because there will come a time when you will want to review your book’s journey, looking specifically for insights you may have had along the way that got lost in the flurry of writing that first draft. If your journal is full of ideas for short stories, quotes by famous authors, or a record of how much vacuuming you did on a particular day, not only will it take much longer to review, but you will not be able to sink deeply into your own vision of your book that was evolving as you wrote it. Several times when I was working on the first draft and needed direction or inspiration, I found both in my dedicated journal.
When you review your dedicated journal, you will see what your book is really about. You will also see good ideas on which you didn’t follow through.
The entries in my dedicated journal often take the form of desperate prayer. Help me see this scene as if it had already happened. Help me see the truth of it. Help me be the person who can write this book. But scattered among all those cries of a drowning woman are some pithy statements that shed light on what I need to strengthen the rewrite. Character motivation, nuances of theme, depth of relationships between characters.
My little journal was a gift from a student, a replica of a sixteenth-century design. I usually write a minimum of a page in it before I settle into my creative zone. It has become like a door into my writing mode. I try to open my mind and pour my inhibitions about the writing onto this page so they don’t block me where it counts.
After your draft is finished, during the process that I outlined in the previous post, reread your dedicated journal and make a list of insights or thoughts that you want to incorporate into your rewrite. We all strive for cohesive, beautiful stories. A journal dedicated to your book will help you reach that goal.
From the Director . . . After the First Draft
How a writer reconciles the two schools of thought on planning his story is a personal decision. Some writers insist on a tight outline. Others prefer to start writing and let the characters show them the way.
I think I have a method that is the best of both approaches. You can have a fluid first draft to give those characters a . . . Read More.
From the Director . . . The Blessings of a Platform
We’re all about platform building right now at the VWS. Of course, we have Jackie Wolven to inspire us or drag us onward, depending on our mood of the day.
Many of us hate to be forced to put ourselves out there. As writers, we really want to be in our libraries with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door.
But here are some things that I’ve come to appreciate about the whole platform-building process.
It Forces You to Define Yourself. As a young woman, I was always trying to reinvent myself. I thought clothes were the vehicle to turn myself into chic, or outdoorsy, or feminine. I’d go buy these clothes that really weren’t me and then be disappointed to find that they did not transform me.
Defining your authentic brand forces you to ask yourself hard questions about who you are and what you stand for. This is good for you and will save you a lot of money on clothes.
It Lets Us Share Our Passion. In my immediate circle, there are not too many people who share my fascination with the sixteenth century. But globally, it’s really a huge community. Through blogging and social media, I get to connect with those people and that’s great. I tweet back and forth with a consultant for the BBC production of Wolf Hall. That’s just cool.
It Educates Us Further. I’ve read some wonderful research on people’s blogs, especially the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) members. I’ve read great posts on writing craft, publishing, promotion. I’ve wandered into a broader view of world events or different perspectives on living life as a human. How limited I was in my little holler when all I had was the nightly news and a few publications.
It Keeps us Creatively Fresh. Sometimes, I just get a little worn out with my big ol’ novel. Sometimes it seems that I just keep wrestling with the same questions (what is this dang thing about anyway?). It’s sparks my creativity to craft a little post or reflect and comment on someone else’s.
It Keeps us Aware. We go through life on autopilot. We overlook meaningful moments every day. But when we’re alert to our lives’ unfolding, we find cool stuff to share or reflect upon. That’s also good for us.
If all you’re thinking about, as you work on your platform, is that it will help you sell books, you’re missing several sources of satisfaction. Stop resisting and enjoy the process.
From the Director . . . What We Have
Often, we seem to look at our writing with an emphasis on deprivation. I don’t have any training, I’m too old, I don’t have enough time.
So to counteract those negative feelings, let’s focus today on what we do have.
We have a story. Every one of us has a story he would like to tell. What a great beginning that is!
We have passion for our story. Admit it. You love your characters, you’re having a great time mapping the twists of that plot, you love the romance, adventure, and depth of your story, you’re fascinated with the meaning of your own life that you’ve discovered through memoir.
We have opportunity. We do. We really do. Yes, we have to juggle some things and sacrifice some entertainment and ask our families to pitch in. But we can make time for our writing.
We have resources. Anyone can learn to write today. Of course, Village Writing School workshops are awesome and affordable, and our program is organized and complete. But there are books at your local library on writing craft. There are countless blogs and websites on the internet discussing every aspect of writing craft. You have no excuse not to be getting better as a writer.
We have community. We don’t have to write for years in a vacuum. Through Writers’ Night Out, we can come together to network, commiserate, and as my grandpa used to say, “air off.” We can share our work and get ideas of what other writers are doing with their writing, platforms, and promotion. We can form small groups and individual friendships from the encounters we make at WNO.
Time, Passion, Opportunity, Resources, Community
We have it all!
From the Director…How to Use Setting to Control Reader Reaction
A story is more than the plot. Much more than what the characters do and say. A mature story is a painting that speaks to the reader’s soul, placing him in the scene, making him feel the emotions of the characters.
One of the most important tools that the writer has to control reader reaction is the way in which he presents the setting. Here is an assignment from my years in school. List the facts of a setting, and then write two scenes, using those same facts to give the reader two, very different, experiences.
Just the facts: An automobile showroom, lights gleaming off the walls of glass and the perfect cars. Racks of automobile literature, a Coke machine, a coffee maker and styrofoam cups. Hanging on the walls, a mounted elk’s head and a picture of the owner with Bill Clinton.
Turner-Tate Motor Company glistened in the rain, an island of light in a windswept, gray sea. Todd pulled into the parking space nearest the door. Through the drizzle on the windshield, Amy could see the shiny vehicles modeling on the immaculate floor. She touched his denim knee with her fingertips. “I’m so excited.”
He grinned. “Yeah. Me too. Our first new car. But we’re just looking,” he cautioned. “Make them think we’re just looking.”
“Ok.” He was so smart, she thought. Inside, the giant glass windows kept out the wind, the rain, the winter night falling quickly. They contained the light and the warmth, and Todd was right in the middle, looking at a black, Dodge Ram pick-up. It gleamed on the floor like a huge piece of polished onyx, and the silver Ram’s head was bright, bright as the lights gleaming in Todd’s eyes.
Amy studied the picture by the door of an attractive middle-aged man with the President of the United States. “And then I looked up,” she told Todd’s mother later, “and there was the man coming toward me—not Bill Clinton—the other one.”
Later, as Todd signed the paperwork, Amy studied the elk’s head looking down on them. “And I swear, Inez, that big old thing was just smiling down on us. Like we was doing the right thing, you know?”
Turner-Tate Motor Company sat at the edge of town, and the giant floodlights that surrounded its perimeter reminded Inez of the floodlights on the prison. They were both islands of garish, unnatural light amid the dark, silent fields of soybeans.
As she stepped into the showroom, she was shocked by how clean it was, how shiny, how it smelled of new leather and Windex. Not like the chicken plant, and she thought how shabby, shabby she must look in her Tyson uniform. That made her angry at herself. She worked didn’t she? Wasn’t taking nothing from nobody. Wasn’t asking for no hand-out. She was within her rights here, she knew that. The papers said that they had 72 hours to back out of the deal. She had two hours left.
So why was her heart pounding?
In front of her was a huge black pickup just like the one Todd had bought. A big, hulky monster with a head like a sheep that mocked her, smirked at her, as if to say, “You will never afford me.” Before its gaze, she felt beaten down again.
She asked to see Mr. Turner, and while she waited a long time, she looked at his picture with Bill Clinton. Two sleazy snakes, she thought. Finally, the local snake came out. “Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?”
Inez pulled the papers out of her handbag. “I came to undo these papers.”
He glanced around. “Come into my office.”
As she sat down under the elk’s head, she noticed the white around its mouth as if they had preserved even its last foaming gasp.
The room in these scenes is the same. What is different is the perspectives of the characters. But in describing the room, we give our readers insight into our characters. This is a great exercise to illustrate how setting works. Now, you do one.
From the Director . . .Scene Worksheet
From the Director…Voice I – Mechanics
You’re in one of our local indie bookstores because that’s where you usually shop for books. You’re browsing, picking up books on the bargain table or pulling them off the shelves. Or perhaps you are in one of our libraries.
Maybe you began by seeing what was available from your favorite authors. Or you went to a specific section—mystery or fantasy or literary. Perhaps you chose a book at random because you were intrigued by the title or enticed by the cover art.
From the Director…Voice II – Emotion or What’s at Stake?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Voice, explaining that it’s not just how the characters sound, but how the narrator sounds as well. It’s the Voice in the reader’s head as he’s reading the book.
I said that Voice is a product of Mechanics and Emotion. In that first column, I talked about the mechanical elements of voice: what words are used (diction) and how they are arranged in the sentence (syntax).
Today, I’m going to talk about one of the emotional aspects of Voice called Narrative Tension or What’s at Stake?
The Voice must convey to the reader that this is an important story—a story worthy of his time and effort. To do this, the reader must feel that there is something at stake for the character.
From the Director….How to Write Dialogue that Rocks
Dialogue is an important element in Memoir, Fiction, and other Creative Nonfiction, so I thought I would discuss it.
What was I thinking? There are so many elements of writing craft to be considered—point of view, narrative voice, setting the scene, introducing the characters.
But for some odd reason, I promised a lesson on dialogue. Perhaps a little bird told me to do it.
He was a pompous, erudite little bird in a bow tie. He looked over his reading glasses as he said, “You must expound, with brevity and wit, upon the subject of dialogue.”
From the Director . . .Are you sending hidden messages?
A writer DOES send hidden messages. That’s called SUBTEXT. It’s a powerful tool to control your readers’ reactions.
Subtext is like an alternative universe. The writer presents the story directly through what characters say and do and what the narrator tells. But another world goes on beneath the surface. Readers pick up the clues. Subtext works both on the reader’s analytical mind as he puts together, for example, that the character is unreliable and on the reader’s subconscious, causing him to feel that something is amiss.
Characterization is a great source of subtext. What does the character really want versus what he says he wants? This inner conflict is the stuff of great fiction, especially when it is a conflict common to the human experience.
From the Director . . .
Often, we seem to look at our writing with an emphasis on deprivation. I don’t have any training, I’m too old, I don’t have enough time. . .
So to counteract those negative feelings, let’s focus today on what we do have.
We have a story. Everyone of us has a story he would like to tell. What a great beginning that is!
We have passion for our story. Admit it. You love your characters, you’re having a great time mapping the twists of that plot, you love the romance, adventure, and depth of your story. you’re fascinated with the meaning of your own life that you’ve discovered through memoir.
We have opportunity. We do. We really do. Yes, we have to juggle some things and sacrifice some entertainment and ask our families to pitch in. But we can make time for our writing if Tolstoy, a medical doctor with thirteen kids, could write War and Peace.
From the Director . . .
Too much, too little, just right!
Confidence in a writer is a two-edged sword. Both sides can behead you.A lack of confidence can paralyze you until you’re afraid to share your work or even take a workshop. You keep your writing in the nest like an overprotective mother bird, so that it never develops legs, much less wings.
A few thoughts for you who lack confidence:
- We all had to begin somewhere.
- The basics of creative writing can be taught, and you can learn them.
- Writing is subjective and NO ONE (not even a NYTBS author) can write a piece that pleases everyone.
Overconfidence is equally dangerous. When you are too confident, you think you know more than anyone, and your default reaction to comments about your writing is to defend what you wrote. When you are too confident, you are unteachable.
Overconfidence is like a hard shell around you that, at best, keeps you from growing as a writer and, at worst, makes you bitter and resentful because no publisher recognizes your talent.
From the Assistant to the Director Jessie Rex
Recently, one of my life coaching clients was struggling with negative thoughts. As we spoke, he realized that he kept
connecting his current struggles to his past, to old issues he hasn’t worked through.
“He who doesn’t look ahead, remains behind.” — Proverbs
The choices we make todaywill shape our future lives as authors.
Many of us have painful writing histories. We’ve received multiple rejections, failed to find an agent or publisher, been shredded by an editor we hired, or humiliated in a critique group. How we’ve handled those experiences have shaped us into the writers we’ve become.
From the Director . . .
Just a quick note from me this week, as I try to lead by example. I woke up yesterday morning and realized that in this whole week, there was only one day to write. Too many trips out of town to appointments in Russellville and Rogers, too many days devoted to the yard sale, too many assorted tasks like. . .writing this article.
I decided that one partial day of writing in a whole week was UNACCEPTABLE. So yesterday I crammed what might have been a day’s work into a half day and carved out a few hours in the afternoon. Today, I’m skipping this column and writing in the Honda service department waiting room.
Whatever it takes, Grasshopper, is what you have to do. See you next week.
From the Director . . .
In lieu of my column this week, we are sharing a presentation that Greg Sherar gave on his journey to healing through the process of writing his memoir. I have said that I started the Village Writing School for Greg, even though I didn’t know him. But I knew there were people like him with stories to tell, but who needed encouragement and training and support to tell them. Read Greg’s journey. You may recognize something of your own story. –Alison
Th e P O W E R o f W O R D S t o H E A L
She asked us not to make this an advertisement for the Village Writing School, and I won’t, but it’s an important part of my story to describe how I started writing about a year and a half ago. My friend Carl and I went to the Garden Bistro after church for lunch. He mentioned some of his writing, including a book he published. I asked how he got started. The owner overheard us, and a few minutes later she handed me an announcement about the Village Writing School and a program called Writers’ NightOut held at the restaurant on Thursdays.We decided to go. Jessie Rex spoke about setting goals, reaching potential and improving quality of life through organized planning.There were several new writers in the group and some writers with experience. It didn’t seem intimidating, so I signed up for a couple of writing classes.I had journaled a little bit inconsistently in the past, but I had never followed through or done anything with it. I started writing two-and three-page short stories about significant incidents in my life. Right away, I felt the healing power of words as I got those feelings out and onto the paper.There were opportunities at the school to share some of my writing, but I was never pressured or I probably wouldn’t have kept going. My writing was poor and was about embarrassingly personal issues. I had been going to programs at the school for about six months before I found the guts to read anything. The first thing I read was purposely not very personal or revealing. Even so, reading what I had written was healing. It was an additional step to getting my feelings out. I got a couple positive comments and that encouraged me to keep writing.I joined a small critique circle with three other people. Still feeling hesitant, I didn’t read again for several more weeks. Sharing my thoughts and feelings with the same three people every few weeks is easier than sharing with a larger group. We’ve developed trust sharing with each other.I feel better about these difficult things each time I write about them. The healing power is extended when sharing with trusted friends and receiving their comments. I’ve thought about, written, and read about some of the most difficult things I had tried hard to forget. These feelings don’t go away by pushing them out of sight.Two years ago my relationship with my father was non-existent. I held anger and resentment regarding his absence from my life since I was six. I also had many bad memories and negative feelings about my stepfather.As I’ve begun constructing a memoir and dealing with these feelings and memories floating around in my mind, I started to use writing as a way to work through some of those strong negative feelings. I’ve started to see more and more that there are good memories, too.In speaking to family and friends while gathering information for my story, I see I’ve focused in an unhealthy way on the negative. As I look at things from others’ perspective, my words have begun to turn from anger and regret into understanding and forgiveness.This aspect of the written word has certainly added to my healing.Left: Greg on the steps of his childhood home in North Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y.
Writing my memoir has been a good way to begin to write. It’s a story I know, and I can focus on learning the craft of writing. The pieces I wrote at first were simple fact-based narrative stories that sounded like articles without much description of characters or setting. As I learn and practice more writing, I plan for my writing to have fuller, more multidimensional characters and settings that put the reader in a place and time that they can relate to and enjoy. In the future, I’d like to learn to write a novel and maybe do some nature writing.
The healing for me has been multifaceted. I feel the healing process working in me when I hear the words in my mind before I write them, then as I write them on the paper or the computer screen. Then again each time I re-read during editing and proofing.
This has been a beneficial process for me. It’s become a lot of fun. One of the enjoyable aspects of this kind of writing has been the research. I didn’t think I would do as much research for my own story as I have. Going on line and verifying street names, places I’ve been in my life and even an online museum I found about my home town.
A train trip to see my mom in March turned into a wonderful research opportunity. It became a chance to reconnect with my parents and siblings. The writing every night on the trip was a chance for much healing as I examined things I hadn’t for a long time. On this trip I visited my father, whom I hadn’t seen for twenty-five years. We now stay in contact with each other on a regular basis.
I’ve been to counselors and psychiatrist over the years and the Healing Power of the Written Word has worked for me, been more fun and certainly less expensive!
As I wrote on the long train trip home, I felt the anger and resentment for my father and step-father flow down my arm, out of my body onto the paper and then out into the air. The physical act of writing allowed me to feel lighter and experience a strong sense of release that I never thought I would be able to find.
From the Director . . .Things that Hold us Back
This is the first of a series of articles on things that hold us back from writing and from publishing. I’m not going to sugarcoat any of these, but I will say that I’m writing a lot from my own experience.
The first thing that holds us back is that chip on our shoulder. There are as many kinds of chips as there are shoulders to bear them. Here are some forms a chip might take, though this is not a comprehensive list.
- I go through life generally annoyed because I think I’m a better writer than most of the people who get published.
- I disparage advanced degrees because I think that “talent cannot be learned.” Or (flip side) I disparage writers who don’t have academic credentials. Or I disparage writers who haven’t yet published or who write in a genre I consider “inferior” to mine.
From the Director . . .Things that Hold us Back
In this second of a series on things that hold us back from writing and publishing, we look at fear.
We can clutch our writing so closely to our chest that we never let it out into the world, afraid to publish anything because what if:
- later, we want to send it somewhere bigger/better but the first place kept the rights?
- someone reads something we write and steals our idea?
- we publish online and some organization gains the right to publish or market our work?
- we enter into a publishing contract and get totally screwed.
Most of us drive our cars despite the fact that people die in car wrecks every day. We risk leaving our houses because we understand that a full life requires some risk. Who wants to cower at home in fear?
From the Director . . .Things that Hold us Back
Continuing our series on things that hold us back, we go where angels fear to tread. Relationships.
Truth: our significant others can feel threatened by our passion for writing, the time we devote to it, or our writing friends or activities. This can manifest in direct confrontation or, more often, passive aggressive behavior or manipulation. You plan to attend a writing workshop, and he decides to plan a river float trip for that day, forcing you to choose.
It’s difficult for a nonwriter to understand the passion we have for our stories. It’s a hobby, right? We should work it in when there’s nothing else to do. But that attitude, which we often accept for the sake of peace, holds us back. So . . .
Dear Alison’s advice to the lovelorn writer:
- Communicate how much writing means to you. Perhaps you’ve never shared your lifelong desire to write or have mentioned it only in an offhand way.
- Explain that you don’t go to workshops and writing circles because you love those people more than your partner. You go to learn to be a better writer.
- Involve your partner at the social level. All our Writers’ Nights Out welcome spouses. Or let your partner sit in on a writing circle, so he/she can see this is serious work—not a party.
From the Director . . .Why I’m Not Published
From the Director . . .Do You Need Professional Help?
- Not knowing where the story starts. Novices want to begin with history, geography, background info. The first thing I usually suggest is to decapitate the baby. Cut that introductory stuff and find the true beginning, which will be a scene, with characters and dialogue and conflict.
- Fear of scenes. Beginners lean far too heavily on narrative exposition. Hence the adage: Show, don’t tell. Never write more than ½ page of explanation or description.
From the Director . . .The New (Writer) You
As baby boomers redefine what it means to be a “senior,” there is a lot of discussion about “redefining” your life, the “next phase,” etc. This is not only a question for newly retired people. The fact is, anyone can “redefine” his life at any point.
There is, however, a metamorphosis that occurs as we transition from old ways of thinking about our purpose, goals, etc., to new ways. This transition period is as individual as the people going through it. It may be long or short, easy or more difficult.
From the Director . . .
Last Thursday night, one of us brought an article about recent studies on the benefits of writing. Expressive writing proved useful in issues like raising grades or weight loss as the writer dug deeper, through excuses and faulty perceptions, to a truer understanding of themselves.
With so much emphasis on publishing, let’s remember that the act of writing needs no justification.
Since Alice holds me to a brief post here, let’s make a list:
1. Writing is cathartic. As one of us says, “It’s cheaper than therapy.” It’s like we dump the purse of our lives out on the table and decide what to keep as valid and what old, untrue perceptions to toss.
From the Director . . . How to Rescue Your Writing Day when it Runs off the Track
When it’s five in the afternoon, and I haven’t written anything because Traveler had to have three baths (don’t ask) and my mom had needs, real and imagined, and I let my Google of 16th-century water buckets lead to who had a fashion disaster on the red carpet, that’s the time for a SPRINT. Otherwise, despair will drive me to Ben & Jerry. Then, I’ll be more depressed.A sprint is a short burst of concentrated effort. A writing sprint is a short burst of writing effort. (This technique also works for housework, but we aren’t here to talk about THAT.)
In the last two weeks, thirty-nine people have attended our workshops, many of them for the first time. As often happens, as we think about what we want to write, deeply personal, painful stuff comes up. We heard snippets of some amazing, powerful stories in these workshops, and I, personally, WANT to read them.
So the message of this note is: Don’t Give Up
Your story matters. If I didn’t believe that with all my heart, I’d never have invested all that I have in the Village Writing School. Let’s all get a tattoo down our arm: My Story Matters
Writing is healing, empowering, illuminating for the writer. It’s one of the best ways to process our experiences and make sense of them. Once we do that, the future is clearer and full of possibility.
One of our group on Thursday night mentioned her difficulty starting her writing project because of a “laser focus” on caregiving a family member.
This “laser focus” resonated with me. Helping the Village Writing School reach its potential is very satisfying. For over a year, that was all I thought about. My personal writing suffered.
But then, when I’m rolling on my novel, I procrastinate on VWS business, and Jessie has to say, “What about the press releases? What about the newsletter?”
Real life includes many responsibilities. And sometimes we have another big thing, like caregiving or a job. How can we divide our “laser focus” and find balance?
From the Director…Do you have an STD?
Many of us have a shameful secret that we hide from the world: We can’t spell.
We have a Spelling Training Deficit.
It’s more common than you’d think, and a real source of embarrassment for many people. Some of us can’t spell well enough to find a word in the dictionary. In fact, it even keeps people from writing creatively. If I can’t spell, one wonders, how can I write?
From the Director . . .Critical Voice vs. Creative Voice
We all know it: That sly, judgmental little voice in our head. That story is not very good, it says. Who are you to call yourself a writer?
Is it a universal trait of human nature to have a negative voice in our head that criticizes each creative attempt? Or is that inner commentator a product of our success-oriented Western culture? I don’t know, but I definitely have it, and it appears to be a widespread condition.
From the Director . . .Tell Your Story!
I recently returned from the American Association of Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference, one of the largest and most prestigious writing conferences in the world. Over 10,000 people attended. The majority of them dream of writing an important book that makes money, wins a significant award, or lands high on a bestseller list.
The lines for a coffee stretched out the door. The lines for writing fame seemed even longer.
From the Director . . .
If this post had a title, it would be How to Rescue Your Writing Day when it Runs off the Track.
A True Story: The scene was set in 1997. I had the facts right. Princess Di’s funeral was on TV. I had carefully reminded myself what teenagers were wearing.
But I missed the correct mindset of the character. Yes, it was a backwater Kansas town, dying in the center. But, despite the fact that the television was on, I failed to allow for the impact that television had on the fifteen-year-old character. He knew a lot more about the world than I gave him credit for.
My writer/reader friend—and everyone should have one such good friend—said, “Throw this away.” I had the facts straight, but the scene did not ring true. It felt more like 1967 than 1997.
Even though I lived through 1997 in a small American town, I didn’t get it right. Because as we live through this stuff, few of us are making notes for the memoir or novel we will write in 25 years. And the decades blur together.
From the Director…The Default Answer
If you’re an American, you’re probably not sitting around with nothing to do. We have so much entertainment, so many possessions, and so many things we “ought” to do, that we have a list of options for every waking moment.
And then, we want to write.
I read that the average American makes over a hundred unthinking food choices daily. Will I eat this or that, will I eat one portion or the whole box? How many choices do we make about how to spend our time? Will I clean house or write? Will I check Facebook or write?
Often our default answer is: I’ll do this and THEN I’ll write. Of course, what happens is this or that takes longer than we expected or when we finally get around to writing we’re too tired or our creative energy has gone into pithy remarks on Facebook.
Why Your Story Matters
Writers who spend hours trying to understand another period of history know the value of personal stories. Were it not for the journals and letters from the thirteen century, we would grasp very little of how those people felt or thought.
But what will remain of our time after we’re gone? Our “letters” are cryptic phone texts and short emails, and what passes for a journal is nothing but a series of equally cryptic messages on FB.
Fortunately, that’s not all we’ll have to offer those future historians. Life in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is being recorded and reflected upon—not by professional historians and news commentators, but by the people who actually lived it.
More people are writing stories today than ever before, and these writings—whether memoir or fiction—published or self-published—will be come the repository of our times.