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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

  1. How Did You Spend Your Time Last Year?

    January 22, 2017 by Diane

    Two coffee cups
    So, Holcomb, here we are.

    Yep.

    A brand new year.

    2016!

    For you. For me, it’s 2017. But you knew that. You’re a smarty.

    High praise, coming from you. I mean, from me. In the future. So, how’s the outlook?

    Well, a year ago you were dickering with that short story. Rewriting it.

    Yeah?

    Still dickering.

    Oh, no.

    Oh, yes. A year ago, you were spreading it around you’re rewriting that novel.

    I’m planning to blog about it! I’m going to declare my commitment, to all thirty-eight of my followers!

    Sixty-eight now. And you dropped the commitment.

    Yow. Scary word, commitment.

    You’re good at making excuses, too. That copywriting business you started? The one puttering along with one client?

    One GREAT client. He keeps me hopping year-round. He wants me for the whole next season, too.

    Agreed. A great client. But your plan is to get more than one client.

    One GREAT client.

    The plan is to beef up your clientele.

    And?

    You’ve still got the one.

    No networking?

    Nada.

    No notifying my LinkedIn contacts?

    Zilch.

    No cold-calling, cold-emailing, making a list of places to contact?

    Nope.

    What the hell have you been doing for a year!?

    Not me, YOU.

    Me? I haven’t even begun. You’ve already been. What the hell took up all of your time?

    YOUR time. The Bachelor.

    WHAT?

    The Bachelor. That stupid reality show. On Monday nights. The one that highlights women in their worst possible behavior.

    Oh, that. But it’s only on for a season, right?

    Then The Voice.

    Okay, so there goes Monday nights. What about the rest of the week? Surely I did something the rest of the week.

    The Voice was on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, too.

    Listen, you. I’m not letting you hijack my dreams with your stupid reality shows.

    YOUR stupid reality shows. YOU’RE the one choosing to watch them, escaping your own reality. I’m in 2017, remember? Hello! The view’s swell from here. And I’m finishing up the short story.

    No more dickering?

    One last dicker. That’s it. I’m sending it off to journals.

    And the novel?

    It’s either the novel or the blog. I haven’t decided which one gets my attention.

    And the copywriting? Please tell me you’re not shelving the copywriting business.

    Nope. Actually, I had a brilliant insight: If I want to be a successful copywriter, I need to act like one. So I’m putting on my copywriting hat, I’m rolling up my sleeves, I’m snapping on my suspenders. And I’m asking myself: Do copywriters watch The Bachelor? No. Do copywriters futz around on Twitter? No. Not unless they’ve finished their work for the day. Do copywriters blog about rewriting a novel rather than rewriting it? Not likely. Now, every day (except Sundays, when I rest), I’m doing one task on my list of tasks to do to be a legitimate copywriter. I’m already writing a marketing plan. I’m scouting around for networking groups. I’m applying for that Tax ID number. I’m…well, you get the picture. So you know what that means, Holcomb. You’ve got one year to get The Bachelor and The Voice and Twitter and the blog and anything else you’re distracting yourself with, out of your system.

    Gulp.

    Got it?

    Yes.

    Ah, cheer up. The year isn’t a complete loss. You do get a business license and business cards. You find mentors. You become a founding member of the Jerry Jenkins Writer’s Guild.

    Score!

    And you win The Liebster Award for blogging.

    The what?

    And you manage to write some decent blog posts.

    About?

    You’ll find out.

    Ah, c’mon. Give me a hint.

    See you in 2017.

     


  2. Your Novel Offers One Big Benefit for Readers

    December 4, 2016 by Diane

    I love strolling the neighborhood at dusk, seeing inside the well-lit houses I pass without the occupants seeing me. There’s a family sitting around a dining table. A teenage boy wearing earphones, dancing in a living room. An old woman watching the weatherman on television. I see framed photographs on a pinewood dresser; an iron bed pushed up against a window that’s steamy from the chorizos frying on the stove; a lacy curtain turned gray. Glimpses of lives being lived.

    Rooms reveal something about the people who live within. Are the walls bare and painted a peach hue, or adobe white, cluttered with photographs? Are the furnishings leather and chrome, cast-offs from the flea market, or Scandinavian minimalist? And the house itself, is it battleship gray, sunny yellow, or dull as mud? Is the yard mowed or overgrown, fenced, or unfenced with flagstones leading to the front door? Did someone plant tulips along the walkway, or vegetables in wooden boxes? Is there a sign on the gate: Beware of Dog, or does a cat slumber on a window sill?

    On my evening walks, I view the world through the lens of a writer. I yearn for a home of my own, to be sharing a meal with family. I empathize with the woman alone in front of the TV–could that be me in twenty years? Wait, don’t close the curtains, I’m not done looking.

    I spy on people.

    It’s not what I do in life, but it’s something I do.

    What do you do?

    When meeting someone for the first time, we’re often asked: “What do you do?” Leil Lowndes, the author of How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships, suggests phrasing your answer in a way that says: “Here’s how my life can benefit yours.” She gives these examples:

    Instead of real estate agent, say: “I help people moving into our area find the right home.”

    Instead of hairdresser: “I help a woman find the right hairstyle for her particular face.”

    Instead of financial planner: “I help people plan their financial future.”

    What about fiction writers? How does our work benefit the lives of others?

    Here’s an answer:

    As readers, aren’t we spying on imaginary people? We peer into their lives, listen in on their thoughts, watch their most intimate moments, shadow them through their days. We part the curtains of a book, and lose ourselves in the lives of the characters within. By observing how they think through their problems, and what actions they take to overcome obstacles, we learn to navigate the real world.

    As writers, how do we help readers satisfy that itch to spy? Here are three tips, with exercises to practice:

    1. Engage the reader through their senses

    By choosing a few specific sensory details that describe person, place, and thing, the better the reader can “see” the world they’ve entered. In other words: show, don’t tell. He isn’t mad at his wife; he stiffens his shoulders, sets his jaw, and slams out the door. She isn’t trying to get the boy’s attention at school; she’s tapping her pencil against her binder, reaching out one toe and nudging his calf. The car isn’t old and messy; there’s dog hair on the upholstery, McDonald’s wrappers on the floor. The radio sputters between a Spanish station and Big Band music, and the air smells like French Fries.

    Don’t overload the reader’s senses (something I need to watch out for in my own work); allow room for the reader to engage their own imaginations.

    Practice: Write a scene using sensory details only.

    2. Let the reader in on the character’s thought process

    Readers don’t want the kind of detail provided on Facebook—this is what I’m having for dinner—unless that’s crucial to a scene. If a character’s inner monologue doesn’t move the story along or reveal something about the thinker, it doesn’t belong.

    Readers want to know what’s going on behind a character’s facade. What is the character wrestling with? How do they sort through options? How do they deal with depression, anxiety, or fear? How do they really feel?

    Practice: Write the inner monologue of a nervous man or woman getting ready for a date. Why is this person nervous?

    3.  Hold the reader’s interest through conflict

    Why do we tune into bad news on television? Why, when driving past an accident, do we slow down to look? Why do we gossip? Why do we watch someone on YouTube get slammed in the crotch by a baseball? We want to see the reaction to whatever horrible thing has happened. We want to see how people survive, how they handle getting knocked down, how they band together, how they process bad news. We want to see how rotten life can get for someone else, and how, against all odds, that person rises up. It makes our own lives seem better.

    Practice: Write a scene where something bad happens to a character. Use action, dialogue, and inner monologue to show the character’s reaction, and how they fight to overcome the obstacle. Include a few sensory details to bring the scene to life.

    Remember: outside the window of every work of fiction, there’s a reader peering in. It’s up to writers to open the curtains wide.


  3. This is How a Writer’s Mind Works

    November 20, 2016 by Diane

    Does this ever happen to you?

    You’re trying on a pair of pants, and the zipper gets stuck. It takes five saleswomen to get you out of the pants. And that’s not the end of it. You have to pretend to want to buy them, but everyone knows you’re too fat, or the pants too small. Whatever. It’s not a match made in heaven. So you browse the racks, and the salespeople watch. You make a selection. A pair of striped socks, and you pay for them. But when you walk out the door, the alarm goes off.

    And that’s not all.

    The security guy eating a hotdog at a wrought iron table outside the store is your nemesis from high school days, the boy who flipped burgers at the joint where you worked the counter. You’d turned him down when he asked you to the movies, so he wrote stuff about you on the wall of the employees’ bathroom, at least you think it was him. Fuck you Holcomb. Stuff like that. Not even a comma between “you” and “Holcomb.” And there he is, stuffing his face with a hot dog, when he hears the alarm go off. He tries swaggering over like a real cop, but he doesn’t have the coordination; he swings one side of his body and then the other until he’s right up in your face. You see him remembering. Or trying to. There’s something about you he recognizes, but he can’t place it.

    Does that ever happen to you?

    Yeah, me neither.

    Only in the fictional world in my mind.

    This is how a writer discovers characters.

    * * *

    At the library, I look around.

    A gaunt man wearing glasses, baseball cap, and blue windbreaker types secret messages into the computer, the cords of his neck prominent. A spy?

    A man with a rusty goatee and toupee scouts around, his eyes flicking from table to chair to corner to shelf. He spins on his heel and dashes off. A detective?

    A woman makes a bee-line for the newspaper rack. Her oversized shoulder bag, hanging diagonally across her body, bumps her thighs. Something heavy in that bag. A severed head?

    This is intrigue at its highest. The stuff of an anxious mind. Or a writer spinning plot ideas.

    * * *

    Crossing the street, I find a dollar bill. And another. And a five. What luck! Nearby, someone’s iPhone. Rats. The money has an owner. It’s an expensive phone, with a red leather case that opens like a book. Tucked inside, the owner’s driver’s license.

    A brunette, she smiles with perfect teeth.

    I’m a hundred yards from the police department. It’s Saturday, but the lobby’s open. The receptionist behind the bullet-proof window jots down my name and number. I try to slide the phone and money under the glass, but she stops me.

    “I’ll send someone out,” she says.

    A compact guy in uniform swings through the door, shakes my hand. He opens the leather case and exhales. “Whoa!” he says, inspecting the license. He uses an index finger to scroll through messages on the iPhone. “Looks like her husband is trying to reach her.”

    “I hope you don’t think I stole anything,” I say. “The money’s all there.”

    He laughs, but shoots a look at the receptionist.

    She nods, her eyes cutting to me. “I have her name and number.”

    He gives a thumbs-up.

    Later, I feel funny about the whole thing. I play what if games in my head.

    What if the cop notifies the husband? What if the husband is abusive, and the woman is on the run, in hiding? Now he knows where to hunt her down. What if the woman is already dead, and someone finds her body in a dumpster? My fingerprints are all over that phone. They’ve got my number. Me, a Good Samaritan, suddenly a prime suspect in a murder case.

    This is how a writer mines for story ideas.