Monday, March 26, 2012

Writing Discpline

Discipline is a big part of working as a professional writer. It's important to focus on the task at hand, but I may take a short break to play with new ideas if I hit a lag and need to get the creative juices flowing. After my deadline is met, however, I will have plenty of ideas waiting. How do I decide which to pursue next? I consider two things: exhilaration and marketing. With which of these ideas am I most intrigued? Which will maintain my interest during all the stages of writing–including repeatedly revising and polishing? Once I've selected the three most promising, I'll consider markets. This is especially important for nonfiction. If it won't sell, why spend the time  working on it? Of course, trends change and an idea that may not interest an editor today may interest him in 2-3 months or 2-3 years.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Corralling Ideas

When I was a 100 percent “newbie” writer, I actually worried that I’d only have one idea to write about. I was actually reluctant to send out my first MS for fear that I wouldn’t know what to work on next. This very thought is ludicrous to me now; once I became aware of all the potential ideas surrounding me, I quickly filled up an 18-inch index card file box! 

The same will happen for you. If you’ve followed suggestions in previous posts, ideas should soon arrive fast and furious. When they threaten to trample you, corral ‘em up in a file or notebook. I often think of ideas while I'm working on deadline projects. Something about the pressure to complete one task temps me with others. Rather than allow new ideas to entice me away from the current project, I'll jot them down to pursue later.  If I'm on the computer, I switch to a new document and make bullet points or brief summaries along with notes on potential markets and research possibilities (if it's nonfiction). If I'm not at the computer I'll use my journal to record ideas (and often go into more detail) or jot the ideas on scrap paper or an index card to develop later.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Make Your Clay

Earlier this week I finally had a chance to catch up with a dear friend. We went for a walk on the beach and talked about writing. Since she has taken my writing classes in the past (that’s actually how I met her), she reminded me about something I tell my students at all levels: "make your clay and then worry about details later."

What do I mean by this? A writer’s draft is the medium of our craft which we shape and refine during revision. The real work of writing comes during revision. As writers we need to make our clay, meaning getting the words out of our heads and onto paper where we can then work and rework those words into a finished manuscript. If we were painters, we would have brushes, paints, palette, and paper or canvas to use to create our work. If we were potters, we would begin with a lump of clay and mold, shape, and work in details.

Writers, too, need something to work with--something to shape, trim away excess, add in detail, refine and illuminate. So I encourage all my writers to finish (or nearly finish) a draft before they focus on revising. Why? It’s easier to trim away the excess and add in details, develop a character, refine a plot line, and so on, if you have your basic three-part structure in place. It’s not set in stone. Word processing programs make it (thankfully) easy to move, cut, and add (and return to a previous version if necessary). But, once the words are in black type on white paper or screen, it gives the writer something to see and work with, much like the clay used by potters and sculptors.

Having something concrete to shape takes away the tension of revision for newer writers. Viewing the draft as something that includes debris or flaws to pick out takes the pressure off of creating a "perfect" first draft. The key word is "first," since many writers create multiple "drafts" before a polished piece is sent to an editor. Incidentally, the editor then refers to that much-revision MS as the “first draft,” since it is his or her first go-round in editing it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Blending Details

These two exercises require you to use details from your journal and spring-board to a new idea. You'll blend the real and the imaginary to create a story.

Exercise 1:
Find a favorite magazine. Select an ad that inspires you. Find another ad or photo of a person.
Write about that person in the setting or situation from the first ad. What happens? Is there a problem? How is it resolved?

Exercise 2:
1)   Select three ads or photos from magazines that show both people and inspiring settings.
2)   Write down a focus point or question. For example, a decision you need to make, a problem you need to solve, a subject you're interested in learning more about, or a recent complaint.
3)   Select one of the magazine photos and write about your focus point from the viewpoint of the person in the photograph. Use appropriate language/vocabulary if this person is a child or teen.