The Page a Day Writers Group

Posts Tagged ‘writing attitude

Never mistake activity for achievement. —John Wooden

It’s true. I used to confuse motion with action. As long as I was busy in the motion of writing a novel (taking classes, attending workshops, reading how-to books), I thought I was getting closer to my goal. The reality is, while I was in the motion of writing, I wasn’t truly engaged in the action of writing a novel. The possibility of producing an actual book was slim. I liken it to constantly going to the grocery store buying the ingredients for a delicious cake, but never actually baking it.

I was happy — highlighter in hand — with my nose in the latest or time-tested how to write books. I garnered every tip, idea, theory and tidbit imaginable. And I read every writer’s blog. Actually that last one may have been what saved me.  Thanks to a post from James Clear, I learned the folly of my ways.

Don’t get me wrong. It is important to learn about writing. The knowledge I’ve gained through my critique partners is invaluable. But after gathering ideas from other writers, wannabe writers, editors and agents, there comes a time to put all that learning to the test – or in my case – to the page.

I talked a lot about how hard it is to write fiction. Anyone who would listen, heard my lament. It is a much tougher task than writing a magazine article, where the challenge is to uncover the facts and put them into a readable prose.

One my critique partners, Sharon C. Cooper, called me out on my penchant for hovering around the idea of writing a novel . “You’ve taken more classes than any other writer I know,” she lovingly said. “Girl, you need to start writing.” Those words hit home. I got the message. I needed to stop preparing to write and start spending my  time getting words on the page.

Bum glue, butt-in-the-chair, chained-to-the-computer. It all amounts to the same thing. A writer writes. So get writing.

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

If you’re like me, you’re looking for words of advice–any kernel of wisdom to help you transform 250 pages of prose into a published novel.

Writing a book is a long journey and the trek isn’t for the weak of heart. E.L. Doctorow likened it to “driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I see it more as trudging through the darkness with only a flashlight to illuminate the way — and your batteries are low.

Along our writing path, we stop and talk to other writers. Ask their opinion, question their methods and delve into what system works for them. We read the pages of published authors, hoping to uncover a secret or two. We’re learning, bit-by-bit, how to persevere. Not to give up the quest. And maybe, hopefully, some day be published.

During my journey, I’ve uncovered a few nuggets — manna for my writing soul . . . some more useful than others:

“Read. Read. Read.”

“Minimize the back story. Less is more.”

“Use active verbs.”

“Limit exclamation points!!!!”

“Put your butt in the chair.”

“Show, don’t tell.”

“Make sure you back-up your work on an external drive.”

“Get real familiar with story structure: Set-up, Response, Attack, Resolution”

“Up the stakes for your protagonist.”

“Stick to one POV.”

“You need more POVs.”

Obviously, I add to this list regularly.

This week, my shout-out for “the best writing advice I’ve ever received” goes to Anne Lamott. Her book, “Bird by Bird” is jam-packed with worthwhile, real-world information, advice and guidance she has shared with her students. For nearly two decades, writers have eagerly dipped their spoons into this book and scooped tasty tidbits of enlightenment designed to keep them at the keyboard. Among Lamott’s most famous advice is permission to write that “shitty first draft.”

The gem I’ve mined from her book is: “…sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively.”

I’ve put her concept into practice and within a few weeks, my writing has improved, not just in quantity, but in quality. Amazing how showing up for work actually works. Thanks Anne.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received .. at least up to this week?

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

I’m fortunate to have two critique partners who pour over my work with a commitment to make me a better–and published–novelist. The three of us have been on this journey for a couple of years now and I know how valuable it is to have writers I trust comment on my work.

I often think of Randy Pausch’s words in “The Last Lecture” when he refers to a football coach who cared enough to keep on him to make him better. After a particularly tough practice an assistant coach told Pausch why criticism is a good thing. “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.” My read-and-critique partners never give up on me. And I’ll never give up on them.

 “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”

When I spend time reading their pages, I want it to be of value to both of us. I’ve learned the more I critique, the better I get at it and the more my own writing improves. (Funny how practice always makes perfect, just like Mom said.)

There is a big difference between critiquing and providing a line-by-line edit. If I see glaring grammar, spelling or punctuation issues, I’ll comment, but GSP is not the focus of my critique.

I’m spending my energies determining if the story world works.

Is the tension in each scene enough to make me want to turn the page?

Does the pacing of the book feel right? Not too fast, not too slow?

Am I asking myself, what will happen next or are things dragging along?

Do I care about what’s happening to the characters? Am I invested in the outcome?

Are there enough visual images? Are there too many? (As far as I’m concerned that’s just as bad.) Do I want to skip sentences, paragraphs, entire pages?

What information you look for when you receive critiques from your critique partners? What information to you supply?

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

For my birthday, my oldest son, Shawn, and his girlfriend, Lisa gave me a copy of Stephen King’s “On Writing.” For some crazy reason, this duo has faith in my yet-to-be-proven novel-writing ability. They thought I would uncover a nugget or two of encouragement and advice in the part-memoir, part-guide-to-writing penned by such a prolific, captivating and successful author.

They were right.

I couldn’t put the book down, laughing much of the time and nodding in agreement at King’s light-hearted, straightforward look at his career and the curious world of writers.

“Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open.”

On page 57 of the memoir portion, King tells about his first job as a sports reporter for a local paper. John Gould the editor returns King’s first article to him and says: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

In the book, King credits Gould’s advice:

“Write with the door closed. Rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right–as right as you can, anyway–it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize.”

I do write the door closed, letting all the thoughts rush out through my fingertips and on to the page. It’s the writing with the door open that I fail at, fearful of what might happen if I even opened it a crack. King shared a very primary concern of every writer—wanting to put everything on paper perfectly the first time. He reminded me that getting the words on the paper—warts and all—is the first part of the job, and often the hardest. Only when that’s done, can we open wide the doors of our offices and hearts to refine, tweak and polish up the kernel of our original thoughts.

King’s advice to rewrite with the door open couldn’t have come at a better time. As I work my third draft, I’ve unlatched doors and pried open a couple windows, too, exchanging self-doubt for the cool breezes and warming sunshine I need to finish telling the story.

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

 

Hi everybody,

I’ve read recent discussions about the changes in the industry and their potential negative impact on writers’ abilities to create meaningful careers with interest. I guess I feel that the writing life is like the rest of life and is summed up best by that quote that says… “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug.”

I have no idea what’s going to happen to the book publishing industry next century, next decade, or even next year, but I am happy to report that for the past few weeks, I’ve gotten to be the windshield rather than the bug…

My editor loved the novel I turned in (yay!) and she loved my new proposal (yay again!) So she bought two new books from me. (Hurray! Celebration dance and such…)

Also, I’ve gotten emails from readers this week asking when my next book will be out. Since there are a zillion other novels, nonfiction books, TV shows, video games, yada yada, to keep people occupied, but they’ve taken time out of their day to write to me and let me know they’re waiting patiently (or, in the case of the email that was all in caps, not completely patiently) I guess I’m stubbornly going to believe that there will always be a place for stories that readers connect with.

I can’t promise that the road will get easier…ever. I definitely struggle with fear and doubt a lot–thoughts like: Is my readership growing fast enough to satisfy the publisher? Will readers be happy with the latest book? How can I plot a book while studying for a board exam and working overnight shifts? etc., etc., etc.

Yeah, the road can be rough and rocky. But I can promise one thing… there are moments when it will be worth it. I bet you’ve had some of them. A critique partner or a reader or an editor says you’ve made a breakthrough, or you make yourself laugh or cry or smile or melt while typing a new scene. This is what I wish for every one of us on every story we write. (That and big advance checks and front table placement and five-star reviews and… hang on, I just want to keep dreaming for a few more seconds…)

It is possible that the publishing sky is falling and, if so, I’m really pissed about it, but what can I do? I have never been able to quit writing and know I never will. I am a wake-in-the-middle-of-the-night, distracted-on-the-freeway-working-on-plot-twists, absolutely-unable-to-quit-writing writer. I’m married to it, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, ’til death (That’s right, I said DEATH) do us part.

So if the sky is falling, look for me under an umbrella, trying to get those last few words down before the end. And I really do hope you’ll be under the umbrella next to me, because while I can’t help being consumed with the writing madness, I prefer not to be crazy and alone.

xoxo,

Kimber

Kimberly Frost’s Southern Witch Series
Would-Be Witch – Book 1
Barely Bewitched – Book 2

Halfway Hexed – Book 3 will be available February 2011

http://www.frostfiction.com/

This morning, my Wednesday walking buddy mentioned she would love to be a painter. Too bad her genes didn’t include talent with a paint brush.  I told her most so-called innate talent isn’t. If she wants to pick up a paint brush, she should go for it. Why not?

What is talent, anyway? Where does it come from? I say, talent comes from personal interest and a willingness to have fun in the beginning without having to be an expert. Zig Zigler says, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well.” In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes a pretty convincing case that to become a “gifted expert” at something, it takes about 10,000 hours of concerted effort. So if my walking buddy truly wants to paint master pieces, it may take 10,000 hours of practice, but she could enjoy creating rich, rewarding pieces along the way. I, for one, would definitely hang one of her paintings in my home, no matter what it looked like, even if it ends up on the wall in the walk-in closet.

Child prodigies in any skill are rare at best. Many young, successful artists, musicians, or writers just started practicing their passions earlier than the rest of us. They get through their 10,000 hours sooner than most of us begin. Christopher Paolini, young author of the Inheritance  series (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr), wrote the first book at age 15. He wrote and rewrote Eragon, self-published it, and promoted the book by doing readings and presentations wherever possible. Eventually a publishing house picked it up, and his editor made him rework and rewrite the book again. Eragon came out after Paolini turned 19. Is Paolini a child prodigy or a kid with a keen interest, a burning desire, a willingness to learn, and an early 10,000 hours of practice?

Does it matter?

Writers’ experiences and interests prepare us to put words together for others to read, but there is no substitute for those 10,000 hours of hard work and the willingness to strive to develop our skills. Becoming an expert at any craft also requires the ability to hear feedback, to collect opinions from others and process how those viewpoints may offer kernels of wisdom to help us progress.

And patience. Writing well takes lots of patience.

Over the last few years, I have enjoyed watching my own writing improve. I’m looking forward to spending less time reworking paragraphs to communicate exactly what I want to say, but I’m enjoying the road with my Page a Day writing buddies.

No matter where or at what point in life any of us start as writers, it is most important to make note of improvements along the way and …

Enjoy the journey.

Happy Writing!
 

Bob Dobbs says, "The SubGenius Must Have Slack" The logo is from the http://www.subgenius.com The SubGenius Foundation, Inc.

I have to admit, this has been difficult for me lately, especially with the ‘Global Economic Crisis’ in progress.  I swear, if I hear that standard excuse for treating employees unfairly and leaving us all feeling like we might be fired at any moment one more time, I’m going to walk out the door.  Actually, I can’t walk out, but I do in my head nearly ten times a day of late.  Still, I must soldier on because I need that piddly squat pay to feed and shelter myself.  I also need some of it to buy printer cartridges and paper.

I think all artists experience this feeling at one point or another.  I think we all dream about getting that phone call that we’ve made the big sale, or gotten the big part so we can finally tell the boss where he can stick his ‘Global Economic Crisis’.

I like to dream of the phone call going down like it did for my idol, Stephen King.  Getting the phone call from his agent that Carrie had sold.  That was the manuscript he says he tried to throw in the trash, but his lovely wife saved it.  Glad she did; it’s the book that hooked me on him in the first place.  That book also earned him a $40,000 advance (keep in mind, them’s 1973 dollars, so who knows how much of an advance it would be by today’s standards).

I’d like to at least make enough to get out of being robbed at least part of the time.  I could do part time, but this full time rape is getting old, bleeding me dry.  Sometimes exhausting me to the point of not being able to do what I really want to do at the end of a long day.  Being in a private institution for adults means that I work full time for these people, but I’m treated like a part time employee.

I have to tell myself every day that there has to be something there I need, something that will help my craft.  I read an article in which one writer claimed he got writer’s block when he stopped teaching and he couldn’t write a word until he went back to it part time.

Maybe he’s right.

I’ve also heard/witnessed over and over that you still can’t quit your day job even after you’ve made the big sale.

King continued to teach off and on after that first big sale.

I think the thing that keeps me going is the students.  As I mentioned before, they’re adults so it’s not like I’m ‘doin’ it for the kids’.  But in this crazy country that looks like one big shopping center to them, they are like a bunch of kids.  Even the ones who are well into their forties and fifties are astounded by our 24/7 society.

I get to answer cool questions like “When Americans ask you ‘How are you?’ do they really want to know the truth or are they just being polite?” or “What’s a Ped X-ing?” and here’s my favorite: “What are bail bonds?”

I love this one because I get to tell them a little about how our legal system works and that we really do have bounty hunters here in America.  Their eyes go very wide and they probably start imagining dusty streets with tumble weeds rolling by while Clint Eastwood comes down the street, spurs clanging ominously as his hands hover over the two six shooters strapped to his sides.

Though I have managed to relieve them of the notion that all Americans own guns since this one doesn’t and won’t.

I took a bunch down to the courthouse one week.  It wasn’t until I started working at this school that I discovered you can just walk in to the local courthouse and watch most trials.

The first thing one of my students whispered to me was, “This courtroom is so much smaller than I expected.”

I responded, “And much less tidy and well-lit.”

He nodded and added, “Nothing like it is on TV!”

It’s moments like these when I realize that American society is rarely ‘As Seen on TV’.

I also find my students are a wealth of knowledge I can draw upon.  I can find out how they really think, and what things are really like in their countries.  Not only do we misrepresent ourselves to other countries on TV, we fool ourselves into believing lots of really strange things about them!

Contrary to popular belief, only farmers wear those wooden clogs in the Netherlands and the country of Switzerland is not made entirely of chocolate!  french fries are really Belgian, and pizza in Italy is nothing like it is here.

The Swiss really do use Ricola and are usually on time, though.

I find that comforting.

Since a lot of my stories take place outside this country, my characters sometimes say things in other languages. I find I can’t rely on Babel Fish (the Alta Vista version, not the Douglas Adams one) since it’s just going to translate things word for word, never giving any hint about whether or not this is what a native speaker would really say in any given situation.

Example:  Here in America, we say, “What’s up?”, “How ya doin’?” or something like that for a greeting.  South of the border, we might say, “Que pasa”, which literally translates into ‘What passes”.  This is where Babel Fish will let you down.

But this is also where having students from all over the world is quite handy.

I remember asking an Italian male student about a translation once.  I needed to know how an Italian man would say that a girl is ‘curvey’ or ‘shapely’.  When I asked him, he said, “Who am I saying this to, my mother or another man?”

Valuable stuff, because the two versions of that are way different.  One of the ways would have earned him a slap from his mother and a trip to confess to the local priest, and the other would go by unnoticed.

So I do it for the students and I do it for me, I guess.

Now I just need to find someone who speaks some form of Gaelic!


Who are we?

The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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