Monday, March 31, 2008

Playing When We Write

How often do you play when you’re writing? How often do you let yourself remember the sheer joy of playing make believe as a child—and then extend it to your writing?

Last week I suggested playing “what if” with our lives. If you’re a writer, you know it’s an invaluable tool when planning a book. How often, though, do we put limits on how far we will push “what if”--especially if someone has reacted negatively and said: You can’t do that in a _________ book?

We need to be aware, of course, of reader expectations. And it’s useful—if we can—to fit what we’re writing into what editors are looking for. At the same time, some of the most memorable books have been those that broke the rules.

So the question becomes: How do we balance what expectations are with the vision we have for our own work?

My personal bias is to let there be no limits IN THE FIRST DRAFT of our project. Let our imaginations have full rein and see where the story goes. Then we can step back and look at whether or not what we have will work and what changes we might want and need to make.

I know there are some brilliant authors out there whose first draft is essentially ready to go to an editor. For most of us though, we’re going to be making revisions anyway. Why not see where our imagination takes us? If you are one of those writers who writes an essentially single draft book, then at least in the planning stage, before you start to write, let your imagination soar. You might think of things that will enrich your story immensely.

The key in taking such risks, I believe, is understanding the TRUE reader expectations—and finding a way to meet them. This isn’t necessarily just the stated conventions of the genre. It’s also about the EMOTIONAL payoff the reader wants to get from the book.

The other key is knowing what matters most to YOU about what you’re writing. Perhaps tweaking how you use certain elements will allow your story to fit the market a little better.

There are risks to writing outside the box but how will we discover the possible rewards if we don’t try?

Monday, March 24, 2008

What If....?

This time of year is always a reminder to me that rebirthing ourselves over and over again is a natural and powerful step to take all through our lives. By that I mean stopping to think about where we are, how we got here, and whether changing any of our assumptions about our lives and ourselves—and our writing—might be worthwhile.

We make assumptions every day about how things are and who we are—as individuals and as writers. Often those assumptions are things we were taught by our families or society and often we outgrow them or discover they were never true in the first place—IF we stop to challenge them.

It’s so easy to go through life never questioning our assumptions but we do so at a very high price—cutting ourselves off from wonderful possibilities we might otherwise have. Some of the most wonderful writers out there didn’t listen to conventional wisdom—and we are all the richer because they didn’t. Some of our greatest inventions came from people who didn’t listen when they were told it couldn’t be done.

When we were children, we knew how to play make believe and ask: What if? What if we did that with our lives now? What if we asked ourselves: Could we be wrong about the person we think has insulted us? What if they were saying thinking something entirely different than what we think we heard?

What if we could do that thing we were told we couldn’t do when we were children? What if we aren’t tone deaf or incapable of doing math or shouldn’t even think about picking up a hammer or wrench?

What if we can find joy even on the most difficult of days? What if it’s okay to have fun as we move forward in our lives and take on new challenges? What if we can get our finances under control? What if....?

What if we stop and ask ourselves: What assumptions do I want to challenge TODAY? What new possibilities do I want to bring into my life NOW--even if I didn't know I could have them before? How can I expand my expectations for what’s possible for me—as a person AND as a writer?

How about you? What ways could you enrich your life AND your writing by asking: What if...?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Why Do We Write What We Write?

If you’re a writer, do you know why you write what you write?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Sometimes I know the answer. Sometimes I have characters who demand that I tell their story. Sometimes it’s an idea that intrigues me. Sometimes I haven’t got a clue; I just know that I have to write something.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that whether or not I consciously know where a story comes from, it will always in some way be connected to something I’m sorting through in my own life. It might be the theme of faith and honor and courage or it might be watching someone I love struggle with a difficult challenge and hurting for them. It might be how to balance self and responsibility to others or it might be the power we have within us to overcome any challenge and change our lives—if we believe we can.

I know that my experiences affect what I write. I also know—as Barbara Samuel said so eloquently in a speech a few years ago—that what I write impacts me as well.

I guess it keeps going back to that saying: It’s easy to write. Just open a vein and bleed all over the page.

Except that sometimes it’s laughing all over the page or simply embracing that connection that in our best moments we as writers have—heart to heart with those who read our words.

At least that’s how I see the answer to the question of why I write what I write. How about you? Why do you write what you write?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Next Class

I've been putting off announcing the next classes because I was trying to decide on timing.--what with Spring Breaks and Easter happening in March and Passover in April. What I finally decided is that I would offer the classes anyway and hope for the best. I promised a number of people that I would offer the Book in a Week class again in March so here it is...

The lessons will be designed in such a way that they can be done at your own pace but in the order they are sent out. If you've ever heard me speak then you know that I believe in making the writing process as easy and intuitive as possible. That's what this course is designed to do.

Book in a Week will run 5 weeks from (March 17 to April 18) (There will be no lessons the weekend of Good Friday/Easter.)
Cost $40 (this time only--the price may go up in the future)
Deadline to sign up: March 14

To sign up send an email to April with Book in a Week in the header and in the body of the email please put: your name, the class you wish to take and whether you prefer to pay by check or Paypal. (You can either use the send money option in Paypal or ask me to send you an invoice.)

Note: Class size will be limited to 35 students maximum

The class will be run by having members sign onto an email loop and lessons will arrive via that loop. Lesons will also be posted in the file section of the email loop so that students can download any missed lessons directly. There will be opportunity for discussion on the loop.

Class Description: Book in a Week

In this class, writers will be taken through every step of the writing process—from beginning to brainstorm all the way through sending material out to be published.

Weeks 1-3: Preparing to write the first draft of a book in one week
Creating compelling characters or how to write about real people in nonfiction
Planning plot elements or structure in a nonfiction book
Significance of names
Effective paragraph and sentence structure
Using imagery and sensory detail to add impact
Writing effective dialogue
Creating a productive writing environment
Enlisting the support of those around you
Mentally gearing yourself up to write faster (and better) than you thought you could

Week 4: Intensive Writing Week (April 6 to April 12)

Week 5: Evaluating the writing experience itself
Making revisions
Sending out material

I look forward to having some of you take the class!

Happy Writing everyone!

PS I don't expect to always post here when I'm offering a class. You'll notice a button at the side to sign up for an email loop that is set up to let people know when I have a class being offered.