Friday, December 19, 2014

Today, I'm participating in DL Hammmons's Deja Vu Blogfest, in which we share a post from the previous year that we feel got less attention than we'd like. My recycled post is from January.

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Anxiety of Influence


As a writer, should you be especially careful about what you read?

It's a question that's been plaguing me during a reading binge. My current read isn't an identical scenario to the one I'm currently writing, but there are numerous points of intersection. This puts me in a bit of a quandary. Will continuing to read help me work out my own story, or will it derail me?

Photo credit: dave from morguefile.com
In her nonfiction book on writing, Escaping into the Open, Elizabeth Berg makes an interesting assertion about influence I've never seen anywhere else:

"While drafting, avoid reading books on the same topic as yours." 

Her reasoning? "...no matter how aware or sophisticated or experienced you are, no matter how determined to write your own story, there's a very real danger that you will start to copy. It may be unconscious, but it can happen. And if that happens, it's a shame...because it denies the reading public the pleasure of your originality."

Part of me disagrees. If I don't know how others have tackled this topic, how do I know if my ideas are original? How do I avoid just repeating what has been said before if I'm ignorant of it? How do I not end up leaning on tired clichés? Berg seems to argue here that clichés crop up because you read others' takes on your topic. You can't help but copy.

The funny thing is, I could argue the opposite.  Knowing how others have treated a topic might constrain me to try too hard to take a new direction in order to seem original. In so doing, I risk creating an inauthentic experience with inauthentic emotion.

But either way, the conclusion would be stop reading that similar book.

But other possible good lessons could come from continuing. I can have distance from another's story I can't yet have from my own. I can more easily sense the kinds of details I might include as a writer that as a reader I find superfluous or boring.

Similarly, this other author could open my eyes to dramatic possibilities I'm not yet exploring in my work: places where conflict might erupt or alliances could form; ways of delivering, delaying, or withholding information. Berg would likely say I should learn these latter lessons from books on topics quite different from mine.

What do you think? Is it a help or a danger to read books on a similar topic?
Friday, December 19, 2014 Laurel Garver
Today, I'm participating in DL Hammmons's Deja Vu Blogfest, in which we share a post from the previous year that we feel got less attention than we'd like. My recycled post is from January.

----

Anxiety of Influence


As a writer, should you be especially careful about what you read?

It's a question that's been plaguing me during a reading binge. My current read isn't an identical scenario to the one I'm currently writing, but there are numerous points of intersection. This puts me in a bit of a quandary. Will continuing to read help me work out my own story, or will it derail me?

Photo credit: dave from morguefile.com
In her nonfiction book on writing, Escaping into the Open, Elizabeth Berg makes an interesting assertion about influence I've never seen anywhere else:

"While drafting, avoid reading books on the same topic as yours." 

Her reasoning? "...no matter how aware or sophisticated or experienced you are, no matter how determined to write your own story, there's a very real danger that you will start to copy. It may be unconscious, but it can happen. And if that happens, it's a shame...because it denies the reading public the pleasure of your originality."

Part of me disagrees. If I don't know how others have tackled this topic, how do I know if my ideas are original? How do I avoid just repeating what has been said before if I'm ignorant of it? How do I not end up leaning on tired clichés? Berg seems to argue here that clichés crop up because you read others' takes on your topic. You can't help but copy.

The funny thing is, I could argue the opposite.  Knowing how others have treated a topic might constrain me to try too hard to take a new direction in order to seem original. In so doing, I risk creating an inauthentic experience with inauthentic emotion.

But either way, the conclusion would be stop reading that similar book.

But other possible good lessons could come from continuing. I can have distance from another's story I can't yet have from my own. I can more easily sense the kinds of details I might include as a writer that as a reader I find superfluous or boring.

Similarly, this other author could open my eyes to dramatic possibilities I'm not yet exploring in my work: places where conflict might erupt or alliances could form; ways of delivering, delaying, or withholding information. Berg would likely say I should learn these latter lessons from books on topics quite different from mine.

What do you think? Is it a help or a danger to read books on a similar topic?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Writer-friends, Christmas will soon be upon us, and if you're a procrastinator like me, you may have remembered at the last minute some special people you'd like to give a gift--your critique partner, writing group president, book club host, beta reader, editor or other support folks who have made your journey sweeter, like your book tour coordinator. Here are some fun ideas likely to appeal to any literature lover. (Click on each subtitle for more information or to purchase).

Tequilla Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist

Wondering what to get your book club host? Look no further--this fun blend of literary anecdotes and cocktail recipes is sure to hit the spot. With hilarious recipe  names like Brave New Swirled, A Cocktail of Two Cities, and Romeo and Julep, it will amuse as much as wet your whistle.


Drink with Great Drinkers gift set

Help your writing group loosen up a little by tossing back a few using these literary shot glasses. Glasses feature Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Winston Churchill, W. B. Yeats, and Charles Baudelaire, with a quote about drinking by each.

For the Love of Reading Gourmet Gift Set

A book-lover's delight--a book design chest packed with coffee and sweet treats to enjoy with a favorite book. Perfect for your book club host, critique partner or family bibliophile.




Personal Library Kit

Perfect for your favorite book bloggers and beta readers: a kit to help them manage all the favorite titles they share with friends and family.



Editor gift set

What better way to thank your favorite superheroes with a red pen--your editor and proofreader--than to keep them well caffeinated and smiling? This nifty set includes several flavors of coffee, a fun mug and coaster set with the reminder "Keep Clam and Proofread."


Hyperbole Tee

What do you get for the critique partner with razor-sharp wit who always knows how to fix plot holes, talk you off ledges and pull your story's essence out of overwritten muck? How about this cheeky tee--Hyperbole: The Greatest Thing on Earth. Lots of fun colors to choose from, too.


Which of these gifts appeals most to  you? 

Sunday, December 14, 2014 Laurel Garver
Writer-friends, Christmas will soon be upon us, and if you're a procrastinator like me, you may have remembered at the last minute some special people you'd like to give a gift--your critique partner, writing group president, book club host, beta reader, editor or other support folks who have made your journey sweeter, like your book tour coordinator. Here are some fun ideas likely to appeal to any literature lover. (Click on each subtitle for more information or to purchase).

Tequilla Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist

Wondering what to get your book club host? Look no further--this fun blend of literary anecdotes and cocktail recipes is sure to hit the spot. With hilarious recipe  names like Brave New Swirled, A Cocktail of Two Cities, and Romeo and Julep, it will amuse as much as wet your whistle.


Drink with Great Drinkers gift set

Help your writing group loosen up a little by tossing back a few using these literary shot glasses. Glasses feature Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Winston Churchill, W. B. Yeats, and Charles Baudelaire, with a quote about drinking by each.

For the Love of Reading Gourmet Gift Set

A book-lover's delight--a book design chest packed with coffee and sweet treats to enjoy with a favorite book. Perfect for your book club host, critique partner or family bibliophile.




Personal Library Kit

Perfect for your favorite book bloggers and beta readers: a kit to help them manage all the favorite titles they share with friends and family.



Editor gift set

What better way to thank your favorite superheroes with a red pen--your editor and proofreader--than to keep them well caffeinated and smiling? This nifty set includes several flavors of coffee, a fun mug and coaster set with the reminder "Keep Clam and Proofread."


Hyperbole Tee

What do you get for the critique partner with razor-sharp wit who always knows how to fix plot holes, talk you off ledges and pull your story's essence out of overwritten muck? How about this cheeky tee--Hyperbole: The Greatest Thing on Earth. Lots of fun colors to choose from, too.


Which of these gifts appeals most to  you? 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Looking for the perfect gift for your critique partner, book club president, writing-obsessed family member, or your own wish list? Look no further--I've got  you covered. I'll be doing a series of writing-related gift lists over the next several days, just in time to complete your shopping.

Since it's Friday, our first focus will be FUN! Check out these great toys and games for writers (click each heading for more info. and to purchase):

Great Writers Finger Puppets

Imagine all the great entertainment you could create with four fabulous writerly minds ready to act out your silly or serious pantomime plays. Set includes William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy.




Gather around the table for this fun family project--a 1,000 piece puzzle featuring famous writers. In my family, jigsaw puzzles were always part of our Christmas-day fun. This puzzle just might be the one to get your family to adopt this tradition, too.



Writers and Poets Playing Cards

Make your rounds of solitaire or weekly poker game a lot more literary with these playing cards featuring famous novelists and poets.



Notable Novelists

"Go Fish" for the well-read, this card game is sure to delight your literary friends.


Storymatic Classic

Beat writer's block with this creativity tool: "Six billion stories in one little box." Simply draw some prompts and let your imagination do the rest. Great not only for generating stories on your own--it's also fun for parties and road trips.



Smaller and more portable than Storymatic, this dice set can be a handy tool for generating ideas.  Roll and create from the story prompts.



Never again be at a loss for words! This set of magnetic words is great for generating poems or awesome first lines on your fridge or filing cabinet.



Beyond the basics, check out THESE awesomely fun theme sets:


Music  /  Art  /  Nature

Cat   /  Bacon  /   Mustache

Vampire  / Zombie  /  Pirate



Which of these toys and games appeal to you?




Friday, December 12, 2014 Laurel Garver
Looking for the perfect gift for your critique partner, book club president, writing-obsessed family member, or your own wish list? Look no further--I've got  you covered. I'll be doing a series of writing-related gift lists over the next several days, just in time to complete your shopping.

Since it's Friday, our first focus will be FUN! Check out these great toys and games for writers (click each heading for more info. and to purchase):

Great Writers Finger Puppets

Imagine all the great entertainment you could create with four fabulous writerly minds ready to act out your silly or serious pantomime plays. Set includes William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy.




Gather around the table for this fun family project--a 1,000 piece puzzle featuring famous writers. In my family, jigsaw puzzles were always part of our Christmas-day fun. This puzzle just might be the one to get your family to adopt this tradition, too.



Writers and Poets Playing Cards

Make your rounds of solitaire or weekly poker game a lot more literary with these playing cards featuring famous novelists and poets.



Notable Novelists

"Go Fish" for the well-read, this card game is sure to delight your literary friends.


Storymatic Classic

Beat writer's block with this creativity tool: "Six billion stories in one little box." Simply draw some prompts and let your imagination do the rest. Great not only for generating stories on your own--it's also fun for parties and road trips.



Smaller and more portable than Storymatic, this dice set can be a handy tool for generating ideas.  Roll and create from the story prompts.



Never again be at a loss for words! This set of magnetic words is great for generating poems or awesome first lines on your fridge or filing cabinet.



Beyond the basics, check out THESE awesomely fun theme sets:


Music  /  Art  /  Nature

Cat   /  Bacon  /   Mustache

Vampire  / Zombie  /  Pirate



Which of these toys and games appeal to you?




Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Photo credit: chamomile from morguefile.com

When the advent wreath comes out, my writing can often go off the burners entirely, which tends to make me a bit cranky and resentful inside. In a season in which special events and preparations for them can eat up most of one's waking hours, it can be really tough to carve out space for your creative life. But for my mental and emotional health, it's essential.

Finding writing time in December can be a bit like searching for loose change in pockets, under the couch cushions, in the washing machine, and under the car mats. Bit by bit you bank a little here, a little there, and your story continues to grow, like a bank account would,

The usual wisdom is to simply sleep less or decline invitations. That might be necessary if you're under an actual hard-and-fast deadline. But if you aren't, take advantage of the seasonal change to recharge and to stimulate your thinking.

Here are some ideas to try in various venues.

Shopping


Imagine how  your character would approach gift giving. How budget-conscious or extravagant is she? How much does he enjoy or dread selecting gifts? Which secondary character would it be most difficult to shop for?

Imagine what it's like to be an employee or shop owner at one the businesses you visit.

Gather sensory details about holiday shopping. How does it look, smell, feel?

Observe how other shoppers embody emotions like frustration, anxiety, impatience, excitement, worry.

Buy yourself a few knickknacks that draw you more deeply into your characters' world. (For an example, see my post, 'Take Me There' Objects.)

Parties


Observe how party-goers interact with one another. Whose relationships seem shaky? How can you tell? How do family similarities express themselves? How do people flirt or try to blend with the wallpaper? How do listeners show speakers they are engaged, bored, or offended?

Try to discover connections between people you meet and your characters, whether profession, hobbies, life experiences, family structure, or temperament. Once the connection is established, ask things you wish you knew about your character. For instance, "What is the most difficult/annoying aspect of your job?" "What was it like to gain step-siblings?"

Seek out experts in areas you are researching for your story and bravely ask questions. (For more on impromptu research interviews, see my post Expertise is Everywhere.)

Try out your elevator pitch.

Travel


Gather sensory details about the airport. How does it look, feel, smell? How is it different now than in, say, July or August? Observe how fellow passengers express excitement, dread, impatience.

Research setting while on the road, everything from sensory details to the unique features of local culture as seen in architecture, speech patterns, clothing, food, music and art. (For more detailed ideas, see my post, Writer on the Road)

Listen to audio books in your genre.

Read books on the craft of writing or on topics you need to research.

Engage in an art or craft hobby that stimulates your creativity and helps your mind relax.

----

These are just a handful of ways you can stay connected to your story world during a busy season.

What new things might you try this holiday season?
Tuesday, December 09, 2014 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: chamomile from morguefile.com

When the advent wreath comes out, my writing can often go off the burners entirely, which tends to make me a bit cranky and resentful inside. In a season in which special events and preparations for them can eat up most of one's waking hours, it can be really tough to carve out space for your creative life. But for my mental and emotional health, it's essential.

Finding writing time in December can be a bit like searching for loose change in pockets, under the couch cushions, in the washing machine, and under the car mats. Bit by bit you bank a little here, a little there, and your story continues to grow, like a bank account would,

The usual wisdom is to simply sleep less or decline invitations. That might be necessary if you're under an actual hard-and-fast deadline. But if you aren't, take advantage of the seasonal change to recharge and to stimulate your thinking.

Here are some ideas to try in various venues.

Shopping


Imagine how  your character would approach gift giving. How budget-conscious or extravagant is she? How much does he enjoy or dread selecting gifts? Which secondary character would it be most difficult to shop for?

Imagine what it's like to be an employee or shop owner at one the businesses you visit.

Gather sensory details about holiday shopping. How does it look, smell, feel?

Observe how other shoppers embody emotions like frustration, anxiety, impatience, excitement, worry.

Buy yourself a few knickknacks that draw you more deeply into your characters' world. (For an example, see my post, 'Take Me There' Objects.)

Parties


Observe how party-goers interact with one another. Whose relationships seem shaky? How can you tell? How do family similarities express themselves? How do people flirt or try to blend with the wallpaper? How do listeners show speakers they are engaged, bored, or offended?

Try to discover connections between people you meet and your characters, whether profession, hobbies, life experiences, family structure, or temperament. Once the connection is established, ask things you wish you knew about your character. For instance, "What is the most difficult/annoying aspect of your job?" "What was it like to gain step-siblings?"

Seek out experts in areas you are researching for your story and bravely ask questions. (For more on impromptu research interviews, see my post Expertise is Everywhere.)

Try out your elevator pitch.

Travel


Gather sensory details about the airport. How does it look, feel, smell? How is it different now than in, say, July or August? Observe how fellow passengers express excitement, dread, impatience.

Research setting while on the road, everything from sensory details to the unique features of local culture as seen in architecture, speech patterns, clothing, food, music and art. (For more detailed ideas, see my post, Writer on the Road)

Listen to audio books in your genre.

Read books on the craft of writing or on topics you need to research.

Engage in an art or craft hobby that stimulates your creativity and helps your mind relax.

----

These are just a handful of ways you can stay connected to your story world during a busy season.

What new things might you try this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

I'm at the stage with my current project where all forces collide in the big finale, which means, weirdly enough, this is where I stop to do a big re-assessment. Those of you who outline from the get-go may find this strange. But those who don't, whose process is organic,* have probably found themselves doing the same thing.
Photo credit: bjwebbiz from morguefile.com 


Organic writing is seldom a linear process. The writing itself is always discovery, so new revelations will need to be woven back through the piece. This will involve wrong turns sometimes. You might have to let yourself follow interesting tangents because they will help you understand the characters better. But those peripheral events might not prove worthy of inclusion in the final cut, or they could be reduced from full scenes to a few sentences or paragraphs of narrative summary. Discovery might mean traversing many dull miles until you reach the good stuff. Then it's simply a matter of moving the "beginning" later, and ditching the less interesting "prequel" material.

This re-assessment can't really be bypassed, in my experience. Your intuition will nag at you, will sabotage your efforts to move forward until you stop, figure out where you are being drawn (and why), then make the path behind smoother, as if this plot were as linear as a marked trail.  Only then, when you have a clear picture of what your story is "about"--what its focal theme is--can the best ending emerge.

Here are some key questions to ask when you reach the brink and your gut says "don't move forward yet."

  • What patterns seem to be emerging that are parallel among my story lines? If none, how could I develop more parallelism among my main plot and subplots?
  • How might I express these parallel patterns as a theme? (For example, characters all struggling to be honest with each other might reveal themes like "be careful who you trust," or "the truth will set you free.")
  • What themes have I discovered that could be more strongly developed from page 1?
  • Which threads can I reasonably weave through the conclusion? Which should simply be removed? Which need to be downplayed--the scenes radically trimmed? Where can I reassign actions to more important characters? 
  • What subplots emerged in the middle that needed to be seeded earlier? 
  • What have characters revealed late in the story that could be better foreshadowed?


At what points do you re-assess your story? What questions do you ask yourself?


*this term is emerging to replace the somewhat derogatory "seat-of-your-pants writer" or "pantser." It acknowledges the power of intuition as more important than formulas for creating powerful stories.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014 Laurel Garver
I'm at the stage with my current project where all forces collide in the big finale, which means, weirdly enough, this is where I stop to do a big re-assessment. Those of you who outline from the get-go may find this strange. But those who don't, whose process is organic,* have probably found themselves doing the same thing.
Photo credit: bjwebbiz from morguefile.com 


Organic writing is seldom a linear process. The writing itself is always discovery, so new revelations will need to be woven back through the piece. This will involve wrong turns sometimes. You might have to let yourself follow interesting tangents because they will help you understand the characters better. But those peripheral events might not prove worthy of inclusion in the final cut, or they could be reduced from full scenes to a few sentences or paragraphs of narrative summary. Discovery might mean traversing many dull miles until you reach the good stuff. Then it's simply a matter of moving the "beginning" later, and ditching the less interesting "prequel" material.

This re-assessment can't really be bypassed, in my experience. Your intuition will nag at you, will sabotage your efforts to move forward until you stop, figure out where you are being drawn (and why), then make the path behind smoother, as if this plot were as linear as a marked trail.  Only then, when you have a clear picture of what your story is "about"--what its focal theme is--can the best ending emerge.

Here are some key questions to ask when you reach the brink and your gut says "don't move forward yet."

  • What patterns seem to be emerging that are parallel among my story lines? If none, how could I develop more parallelism among my main plot and subplots?
  • How might I express these parallel patterns as a theme? (For example, characters all struggling to be honest with each other might reveal themes like "be careful who you trust," or "the truth will set you free.")
  • What themes have I discovered that could be more strongly developed from page 1?
  • Which threads can I reasonably weave through the conclusion? Which should simply be removed? Which need to be downplayed--the scenes radically trimmed? Where can I reassign actions to more important characters? 
  • What subplots emerged in the middle that needed to be seeded earlier? 
  • What have characters revealed late in the story that could be better foreshadowed?


At what points do you re-assess your story? What questions do you ask yourself?


*this term is emerging to replace the somewhat derogatory "seat-of-your-pants writer" or "pantser." It acknowledges the power of intuition as more important than formulas for creating powerful stories.