Archive for category Writing
Shortly after the WFWA workshop ended, I started the first of three One Story workshops. The first, Write a Short Story with Hannah Tinti presented a method to write a complete short story in a few days. It was fun, although I think it might have worked better if you had characters or a situation in mind before you started. I did end up with a complete but short piece, although I’m not sure how much I really like it.
For me, the platform the class used was a bit overwhelming. I have no idea how many people were taking this class. People posted the new bits of their story and others commented, but this seemed to be a jumble, with so many storylines and so many people, it was hard to keep track whose character was in which story. Eventually I more or less randomly chose a few participants to focus on. If others were kind enough to comment on my submissions, I returned the favor. This soon narrowed the number of people I was following to a more reasonable number, although it was still a jumble with no real flow that I could determine.
I did figure out a few other “tricks.” To get your submission to appear near the top of the list, it was good to comment on everyone’s comment, even if only to thank them. Eventually I also figure out there was a way to mark all the comments you had read so you could see what was new. And of course, the best way to get others to comment was to comment on their submissions.
The next class was Become Your Own Best Editor where the participants read an initial submission, subsequent editorial comments and the changes the author made to the piece up through the final printed version. There were probably fewer participants in this class and in this case it wasn’t quite as necessary to keep the continuity with who said what where. My personal take-away was I really don’t want to be an editor because I was bored rereading the same story over and over. Hannah Tinti and the other editor involved both made insightful comments that apply to most any story rewrite. This workshop has been offered using a different story published in One Story with a different editor so could be taken a second time.
From Character to Story:A Craft Intensive with Editor Patrick Ryan also offered some useful tips. By this time I was familiar with a number of the other participants and it was easy to look for them and read their comments.
The next offering from One Story starts on March 11, My Evil Twin is an Editor, or What the Soaps Taught Me About Writing.
These classes have varied in their helpfulness, but are good for connecting with other writers. Probably which class you’d find most insightful would depend on where you are in your writing career. It should be noted that many known names and people with much success enroll in these courses as well as people who have not written much.
I’m not wild about the platform and the number of participants, but if chaos doesn’t bother you or you don’t want to interact, these may work equally well for you. For some people the amount of work/number of lessons in a short period of time can be difficult, too.
Since I stopped regularly blogging at the end of 2014, I’ve taken numerous online writing courses/workshops from a number of sources. Possibly my thoughts on some of the classes would be of interest or use to other writers. I will present each class in chronological order and follow up with a post on which I found most helpful and why.
Early in 2015 I did a workshop with Donald Maass through the Womens’ Fiction Writers Association. Improvements were made in the platform used for this workshop last year so it was a little easier to keep track of what you’d read by whom. Mr. Maass did manage to comment on most people’s assignments, too. Each year has a slightly different focus, so it is worth retaking each year.This is the information directly from the WFWA website:
Some manuscripts sparkle and gleam. What not only catches the eyes of agents and editors but holds them in thrall all the way through? What signals “commercial” to industry types? How can you give your project that radiance without compromising its integrity?
Topics will include:
High concept elements that don’t feel cheap.
Why readers really fall in love with protagonists.
Story worlds we don’t want to leave.
Entertaining versus illuminating.
Voices we hear versus voices we ignore.
This is a hands-on workshop with five writing assignments spread over two weeks. Presented by New York literary agent and teacher Donald Maass, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, The Fire in Fiction and Writing 21st Century Fiction.
Registration open from February 15 through March 10.
This year’s workshop runs from March 14-March 26. The cost is a reasonable $45 but you do have to first belong to the association. Dues for that are $48.
Here is the link to join: http://womensfictionwriters.org/about.php
There are times in writing and in regular life when you need to make a choice and can’t decide. A friend recently posted a tribute to her mother, and the mechanism presented leads me to an idea for picking pseudonyms, book titles, characters’ names, etc. If you click on the link below, which is from something called The Book of Everyone, you can try your hand at seeing a visual representation of names/words of interest.
My observation is that the shorter and simpler, the prettier. You can easily and quickly play around with this feature yourself. It’s easy and fun!
I have a few ideas for science fiction stories and novels but need some help. Although I read a lot of science fiction in the past, I haven’t read much in the last ten or twenty years. I read one book with a spider as god, and Mary Doria Russel’s series. When I first thought about about getting back into the genre, I bought an anthology of story winners. Most of the stories seemed to me to be of a quality and type that they could have been labeled literary rather than science fiction. This makes me believe the writing in this genre has improved.
The terminology itself has shifted, though, and I’m not clear if I’m using the correct letters, etc. I believe the SF books that would be of interest to me are soft SF, more in the psychological, sociological, or cultural vein than in swords and laser guns. I’m thinking my stuff would be more similar to The Left Hand of Darkness than I, Robot or Dune.
Recently I also picked up two other SF books. I enjoyed James Gunn’s Transcendental, but I’ve lost interest in Rapture of the Nerds, which had an interesting premise on the back cover but is a bit too all over the place for me to want to finish it. Frenetic is how I’d describe it.
Anyone out there have a list of not-to-be-missed novels written in the last decade or so? I’d appreciate any suggestions.
Last week it was suggested to me that maybe I spend too much time working on my blog. It is true that one measly blog a week eats into my writing time, and I’m not getting much accomplished as far as creating new material. It is also true that I have at least temporarily abandoned the manuscript this blog was named for. So why do I continue? The readership for my blog is small, if not close to nonexistent, but so is the readership for my novels (manuscripts.) I like to think that the number of readers of my shorter work is a bit larger since there are all those readers and editors who reject the stories, as well as a few actual readers for those which have been accepted and published.
If the blog is eating into my time, what exactly am I losing if I continue it? I find the blog keeps me searching for new ideas, often through reading the Times and articles on line. I enjoy making connections and coming to conclusions I might not have realized if I wasn’t trying to produce and shape a piece weekly. And even if each post is short, and has taken longer than it should have to produce, it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and purpose. Occasionally someone responds to a post and a new friend, or someone to follow, appears. Who is to say where these new contacts might lead?
I suspect that I will continue to keep my self-imposed deadline. I will keep posting short pieces even if few people read. I welcome readers, and I love comments, especially those that present a different side to my thoughts. I relish the interchange of ideas and know that if I kept those ideas to myself as typed pieces on my computer or in a leather bound journal, the chances of exchanging thoughts with another are greatly reduced, probably approaching zero.
And if no one reads any of my words? Is it that different than taking photographs? Not many see the ones we take, yet most of us keep taking them, if only for our own learning process, to see what we can produce, or more succinctly, for our own enjoyment.
If you blog, why? And is it worth it?
When I was a kid, we bought the New York Times after church and then spent the rest of the day reading it. As an adult we had The Denver Post delivered, and I read The Atlantic and other magazines, but I missed the BookReview. We’ve subscribed to the Sunday Times now for a number of years. Although I usually at least scan the book review, I more regularly read other sections indepth. Styles Magazine is a leaf-through section, with an occasional article read. Today, though, I started with Andrew O’Hagan’s piece on the past and modern innovations. He asks what has society/the individual lost by the use of the iPhone and its attendant apps. He contends that life is better with technology.
In many respects, I agree. At a reunion recently my classmates commented about the superiority of “our music.” While I’d agree some of that music is pretty special and some songs are masterpieces, overall I prefer contemporary music. A steady diet of “classic rock” makes me gag. O’Hagan mentions the ease of research using the Internet. That is a plus,although I still look for books or articles beyond what I can easily (and cheaply) find online. He also mentions the availability of friendship, or at least camaraderie, via social media, and talks about the advantages of the world at your fingertips when you live in the middle of nowhere.
Yes, I agree with all those improvements, yet it still seems that something is lost by the use of phones and computers where before we had card catalogs, meetings in person, books, and had to wait to view movies, hear music, etc. Why is instant gratification better than a wait, or having to work a bit to accomplish something? What is wrong with watching Downton Abbey at the regularly scheduled time in the US instead of watching episodes in advance through some Internet service? Yes, I love streaming movies, but I also enjoy watching certain of the special features included on DVDs. I give up some positives for ease and instant gratification.
I know if it weren’t for computers, writing would be real work for me and would test my patience. I started writing on a typewriter and never quite got the knack of using the back correction. Even liquid paper was a mess. I could never get the paper to line up properly if I removed it from the typewriter. So yes, the advent of word processing programs with spell check and an easy way to make corrections and changes was a boon for me as well as thousands of other writers.
The ease of typing up stories has to be one of the factors in the rise in the number of writers. Not only is it easier to produce manuscripts, it’s easier to get them out in the world. Self publishing on the Internet doesn’t bother me too much since it seems to be akin to the self-publishing/vanity press of old. I do believe, though, that journals and agents and editors are swimming in print due to the ease of submitting online. In the past, not only did you have to write and type a story, but you had to figure out where to send it without the information being at your fingertips. Sure, you could buy a writers’ guidebook, but it likely was out of date before it saw print. More than once I sent off a story the same day I purchased the brand new book and received it back in the mail with a “return to sender” stamp due to an outdated address.
After you figured out your submission strategy, you had to buy and address envelopes, weigh the manuscript for return, possibly make a trip to the post office, and wait. Most journals back then didn’t allow simultaneous submissions, and stupidly, some of us obeyed that. Now, all you have to do is spend a few minutes looking around on the Internet, click and send, very often directly from the correct journal/agent/editor site.
The work involved in submission in the past helped weed out those who weren’t serious, those who were dabbling. It is possible that some great writers were left undiscovered in the process who are now found due to the ease of submitting, but is the overall good of the writing world served by this? Would Emily Dickinson have been published sooner and more prolifically if she merely had to click a button to send her poems? Maybe. But possibly her work would have been lost in the jumble of more fashionable submissions.
Would I go back to the day of the typewriter? No. Computers made writing much easier for me. The Internet makes submitting work and research less difficult, too. For those things I am thankful. I suppose another byproduct of the Internet is an increase in the number of places to publish. It would be interesting to know the ratio of writers to the number of journals over time. Has this changed? Of course there are other factors at play in the book publishing world. If, though, the ease of getting information and then submitting is at least in part due to the Internet, it is likely that the deluge of manuscripts to editors was at least one factor in the Agent as Gateway method to publication. As it seems that editors like my work more than agents, I’m not sure this is a positive for me and my writing career.
Andrew O’Hagan admits that technology changed his character, but the innovations in her lifetime did not change his mother’s. I do not know if the Internet has in any way changed my character. At the same time, I do wonder if it has in some way modified my life course?
How has the ease of technology shaped you and your writing career, if at all?
I recently quit an online critique group. The other three women in the group were excellent critiquers so it was a hard decision to make.
One of my difficulties with the online group was the platform we were using, yahoo.groups. I have used this platform for classes and found it daunting. I couldn’t easily follow any conversation, partly because people would start new topics when merely responding to a previous post. This happened in my most recent group as well.
A disappointment with the group was that we didn’t interact around points made about each others’ work. In my live group, someone may complain about the premise of a story. The others chime in and agree or disagree, make new points, etc. The author may also ask a question or explain what he or she was attempting. Either of those scenarios may result in more discussion between the members. Sometimes this sort of conversation helps the writer see where something went wrong or find a solution for a perceived problem. Not doing any of this made the group feel more like individual beta readers. True, we posted our critiques and the other participants could read comments, and yes, that has some appeal and advantages, but I believe the interplay of the various readers is both fun, enlightening, and engaging. And this interplay, more than the shared work, might eventually develop friendships.
I’ve been following Writers’ Rumpus for awhile now, and as part of the weekly digest I noticed Marianne Knowle’s interview with a woman who has started a website set up for critiques. I glanced at the sample pages, and it looks like it might be useful. I’m wondering if any of my readers has used the site, Inked Voices, or if anyone has another site or method to recommend for online critiquing?
Reasons November is not a good month for NaNoWriMO
- Especially if you are hosting a dinner
- Or have company for the weekend,
- And even worse if you are traveling.
- Volleyball is still going, including Selection Sunday
- Basketball gears up
- Really bad if you have men’s and women’s tickets
- And if you’re one of those crazies who also has football tickets? Exactly when would you have time to write?
- And there’s NFL games, NBA games, and hockey, too. At least I think that last is true.
- Some Nanoers gather to write, and probably eat, but since the month is bracketed by Halloween candy and Thanksgiving, that in itself might not be a good idea.
- There’re all those craft shows for holiday giving, and
- That day after Thanksgiving where so many shop.
- Start of Christmas cookie baking.
- Other holiday planning and doing.
- And it’s close to the end of the semester for many schools.
There are plenty of good reasons to take the challenge. For instance, this site lists 14 published books written during Nano. There are sites that give you ideas of how to make this month productive, as well as this blog by WFWA and RMFW member, Jamie Raintree, with ways to convert this month into a productive year.
Even with evidence that this month truly does work, I’m not participating. When I’ve attempted this exercise in the past, I’ve ended up with a mess. I did “win,” but I’m still trying to untangle the knots from four years ago.
My writing group has tried some alternate “months of writing.” We’ve picked a month with the idea of writing a story a week. Each week one of us emailed prompts. Although I haven’t checked with the others, I know at least two of the stories I produced have either been published or are slated to come out soon. This shorter, more focused exercise works better for me.
Are you Nanoing? How has the process worked for you in the past?
The WFWA newsletter has provided fodder for a post once again. This time it started with a blog from Writer Unboxed related to gender bias in publishing. I know many are tired of this subject, but this post by Julia Munroe Martin was slightly different and included a link to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. As many articles on this subject mention, this one discussed the Bechdel test. This test is normally applied to movies, with the basic requirements to pass being at least two named female speaking parts where the characters talk to each other about something other than the males in the movie.
As noted, this test is mostly applied to movies, but comments on Munroe Martin’s post suggest applying it to books as well. Some suggested applying it to their own manuscripts. In a book is it “fair” to say that the test is passed if there are two female characters who talk about anything other than men for as little as two sentences? Does it have to be more of a sustained exchange? Do different genres have different likelihoods of meeting this requirement, or is it mostly realistic fiction that should be put to this test? I’m going to start paying more attention as I read and maybe produce a blog on this topic down the road.
For the time being, I’m immersed in critiquing manuscripts. Three of these are from my WFWA critique group, and others are from my mixed local writing group. I’ve read much of the work of one of my partners, and I have little doubt that if put under scrutiny her work would pass, since her characters, both male and female, are trying to solve problems not related to sex or gender but to life, death, and ghosts. A number of the manuscripts I’m reading are historical fiction. One involves a woman realizing she is a lesbian. This is set in the world of rodeo and other topics come up naturally. Another involves an English woman and her maid traveling out West to meet the lady’s husband. These two do talk about their travel and danger. A third is about a young wife and her engineer husband. My recollection is that she exchanges a few lines with a sister when they are children, but I don’t recall her as yet speaking with any other women. A romantic suspense has not as yet introduced the female lead and has been two men talking. In fairness I’ve read sixty or fewer pages of each of these and the tenor of the story very well may change and include other issues.
The last short story submitted by the male of the group involved a family of husband, wife, and two children. The mother and daughter might have had a brief exchange, but this story probably would not lend itself to this kind of analysis due to the tight knit group of characters. Possibly short stories are too brief and feature few enough characters that this test would seldom be passed.
How do my own manuscripts hold up? In the one I’ve submitted to my online group, one of the questions I’m trying to address is friendship. The main character asks others what components they feel are necessary for friendship. This alone should pass the Bechdel test. The problem I’m encountering, though, is that I’m told this exchange is either boring or seems like it doesn’t fit. The question that might be posited by my critiquers is, does this advance the plot?
I read sections of another completed manuscript and it might have problems meeting the test even though there are at least four important female characters. The plot of this particular book involves unplanned pregnancy, affairs, and jealousy, and revolves around the male lead. My two lead female characters are together only briefly, leaving them little time for interaction. The female protagonist does discuss their relationship with her mother. The two also talk about the protagonist’s children, but is this enough to pass the test?
Could it be that “women’s fiction” needs a slightly different test than the one applied to movies?
How would you rate your writings as far as the Bechdel test? Do you think it is a fair way to look at books, or should some other criteria be used? What might you recommend as more fair? And last, do you find conversations not necessarily connected to the plot, but part of character development, uninteresting or unnecessary?