National Novel Writing Month –NOW!

It’s day four of National Novel Writing Month and if you’re participating you should be 6,666 words into your first draft by the end of today! If you’ve missed the scoop, the goal is to write 50,000 words/175 pages of a first draft in one month–November. The folks at NaNoWriMo say the focus in on output. And I have to remind even very experienced writers that first draft is not about polish, it’s about finding the bones of your story. Good bones. Strong bones. Bones that can keep on through draft two and draft three and carry your story to …

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CARTOONS, HORIZONS & OTHER OUTLINES

As part of my family’s spring break, I spent the past few days revising an outline. This novel is already in progress but I’ve been making changes to some of the plot elements and I wanted to “picture” the whole again. I worked up a six-page prose outline. Sure enough, it gave me a new perspective. Still, I wanted an instant picture. My first idea was to use a “horizon” outline. It’s something I do often and it’s simple. I draw a line across a long sheet of paper. I divide the line into thirds to represent the three acts …

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ANXIETY AND IMPULSE

Today–a special day for me–I’m sharing a quote from Hackneys, Huskies, a Glimmer Train essay by author Roxana Robinson, the award-winning author of four novels and three short story collections. To read the essay in its entirety visit glimmertrain.com. “All of the fiction I write arises from the same sort of impulse: it’s a feeling of discomfort, a kind of unspecified anxiety, a need to uncover something that troubles and disturbs me. I write toward that feeling. I try to explain it to myself in order to disarm it, to rob it of its potency. I don’t know how this …

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MAKING HEADLINES!

I learned one my favorite writing “tricks” from Charles Dickens, who often published his novels in installments. He used chapter headings, or, what I call headlines. Open OLIVER TWIST to Chapter 6 and read: Oliver, Being Goaded by the Taunts of Noah, Rouses into Action, and Rather Astonishes Him. Or Chapter 32: Of the Happy Life Oliver Began to Lead with his Kind Friends. But page forward to Chapter 33: Wherein the Happiness of Oliver and his Friends, Experiences a Sudden Check. And near novel’s end: The Pursuit and Escape. When I’m writing my first draft, I aim for scene …

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NIGHT SWEATS

A writer friend confides that he suffers from nightmares as he nears completion of his first novel. “I wake in a cold sweat,” he confesses. “What if it’s not good enough? What if it’s no good? It’s like one of those dreams where you show up naked for the final exam. I didn’t used to be this scared–I didn’t doubt myself.” After we talk for several minutes, we agree the dreams, however uncomfortable, are a good sign. He is about to share his novel with a select audience of first readers, and he will be asking for their feedback. The …

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IN YOUR LANE, IN THE ZONE

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps nabbed gold eight-for-eight at the 2008 games in Beijing. When his mother faced interviewers, she spoke of the challenges her energetic son encountered in childhood. Bullied by other kids, diagnosed with ADHD, Phelps needed a positive channel for his energy, and he tried several other sports before he settled on competitive swimming. The combination of clearly delineated lanes and visible goals made swimming his perfect sport. Hearing Phelps’s story got me thinking about Creatives–our inventiveness, productivity, fluidity, and generativeness; our creative mania, expansive vision, and the complimentary need for balance and focus and commitment to a …

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The Fine Art of Giving Up

In the midst of writing a full-length narrative, it is more common than not to arrive at a point when you realize the story’s all wrong, nothing works, and you’ve wasted months, if not years. The narrative arc you’ve been riding collapses beneath you. The story’s implausible, Swiss cheese, skeletal. You’ve created paper doll characters. Your cliché-ridden prose sticks to the roof of your mouth. The possible justifications for failure are endless. But in the end, the verdict is the same: You will never write this book, much less future books. Writing is painful, a waste of time, and way …

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Quote of the Day: “Lower Your Standards”

My friend Marty G., a professional writer and editor, who has been at it for thirty-plus years, does not believe in writer’s block. When a writer complains she can’t make progress on the first draft of her book, Marty advises, “Lower your standards.” When it comes to the craft of writing, Marty is an advocate for excellence, but he also knows the difference between writing a first draft and a third draft. First, get the words on the page; second, make it better; third, make it zing!

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The Wild Freedom of 100 Lines

My writing friend in Mexico introduced me months ago to author CM Mayo’s generous web offering: 365 five-minute writing exercises. Somewhere among those exercises is one that suggests writing 100 lines about a story, scene, idea. I don’t remember the exact details of her exercise, but I am completely addicted to the flexibility it has inspired, and I use it all the time. These days, when I’m diving into a new scene, I begin with 100 lines of free association. These free me of fear and lead me to infinite discoveries, including: dialogue, emotionally evocative sensory details, physical descriptions, various …

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FIRST DRAFT, SECOND DRAFT, THIRD DRAFT!

Writing a book is a long and demanding endeavor. It is best accomplished by breaking the process into doable steps. These include dreaming, brainstorming, researching, outlining, and drafting. I am always surprised when writers are surprised by the concept of drafts. I know many writers and not one of them has penned a novel or memoir in one sitting–or even in one draft. Most writers confess to a minimum of two, usually three, and sometimes many more drafts. I suggest you aim gently for three drafts: the first being the rough and wild draft, the second being the editorial revision, the …

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