Tag Archives: writing advice

Things I Learned during Writing Residency

19226005_10154761056583505_1735351353313373426_nThings I have learned (some about myself, others about writing) during this residency:

Crocheting is as important as writing. Find your BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT thing and do it. You don’t need any more reason than that, so long as it’s not killing the household budget. If what you like is expensive or takes time your family can’t give you, see if you can pull a little dangling thread somewhere to get a small marked bit of time and space. You need it in life even more than writing.

The value of silence: it is tempting to tune into online TV during crochet time, the radio while we drive. Do without every so often. Sit and listen to what you’re thinking about, and be surprised at the connections that form because of the silence.

Don’t lose sight of places you like to be. Until I got to Fayetteville, I had forgotten how soothing, how inspiring, being in the woods is. Church, ball game, bathtub: wherever you go to get your writer on, don’t let anyone keep you from it.

Do new stuff because it’s new. This could be writing, finding a new place to hike, visiting a different town, cooking something weird, trying an intense craft pattern. Bust out of your comfort zone.

Know what you believe. I believe in Jesus. After that I’m listening. Right now polarities are oppositional in politics, religion, even how to cook lasagna. Every idea space is full of debates and hurricanes. Listening is good. Keeping one’s mouth shut is good. Usually people don’t want to know what you think; they want to tell you what they think. Let them; it’s grist for the writing mill, and not difficult to shake off what they will enjoy as a power move. It makes GREAT character study. Don’t get excited; get a notebook.

Draft fast; edit slow. My latest manuscript of 65K words drafted in three weeks. It was crap but had great bones. I set it aside for three weeks, then edited, sent to readers, edited again. The polished draft is with NYC’s publishing deities. Time plus chair plus keyboard makes drafts; fallow time plus finessing makes books.

Work with other writers in a bordered capacity. I’m fortunate to teach for Memory2Memoir and mentor writing educators with American NewMedia Foundation. What other people struggle with, how other people choose to tell stories, invigorates your writing. That said, offer too many consults and your time will disappear. When I sat down to do “other writer stuff” besides drafting or editing my manuscript, how much “other writer stuff” there was startled me.

Enter contests carefully. Writers can spend their lives looking for and finding them at $25 entry fee per. Like a plot itself, getting sidetracked to tell a wonderful story about some minor character may be fun, the writing great, but it doesn’t advance the overarching narrative. Entering contests because you don’t know what to write about yet? Awesome, keep going. Entering contests as avoidance to writing your book? Nope.

Have simple foods on hand. Peanut butter and apples were my staples, plus Trader Joe’s frozen polenta for hot meals. When you’re knee-deep in plot yet hungry, you can keep going.

Hope these are useful to you. I’ve loved my time at Lafayette Flats.

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Filed under between books, crafting, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Fighting with Time

Exactly half-way through this three-month writing residency, I’m aware that the hours left in which to write tick down the slope now. While this is motivating, it’s not a big deal. I’m feeling really good about having drafted the book I’ve always wanted to write, and getting the first feedback from the very helpful beta readers. (Mostly: good idea, bad execution – this is fixable and fun. It’s those bad ideas in good writing that make one ashamed, because you might try to sell it anyway.)

That’s not the kind of time fight I’m having, the fear that I won’t get enough done while here. I’ve been diligent.

No, the problem is the other book I’m working on as the feedback rolls in from the January draft. I’m trying to write a memoir that doesn’t run chronologically, but around ideas related in clusters. When you’re trying to string your smaller narratives, your pearls of storytelling, onto a connecting thread, time is the simplest one to use. It only makes sense, doesn’t it, to tell a story in the order in which it happened?

Until it doesn’t, and those of you who write know the frustration. That didn’t happen then, but it relates, so it gets put there, and then you realize you’re relying on a character in Chapter 3 who doesn’t come into his own until Chapter 8. Or a setting that hasn’t been built yet.

It’s part of the fun, putting faces to people and places without using the face of a clock. Meticulous fun, one might say, but fun nonetheless.

The transitions of time can be the most poetic pieces in a book. The Cost of Hope by Amanda Bennett comes to mind; she hops between 1980 and 2010 like there’s no tomorrow OR yesterday. And it works, hooking concepts together and increasing irony with her juxtapositions of then and now. I’m learning a good bit from her.time

And from trial and error. As Ira Glass says, if you’re making mistakes, you’re learning. Fair enough. I’ve got time to make the mistakes–six weeks left–and I’ve got time to write about, and time to write in. Who could ask for anything more?

Later.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing

Shut Up, Voices

innercriticI’m not someone who normally struggles with writing. Making the writing good, that’s different, but producing the words on paper, nope. I was a journalist in my early career, and if there’s one thing such a program of study beats out of you, it’s the whole “tortured artist” game.

We weren’t allowed to have writers block. Words would come or you would go. Journalism is also great training for book writing because it keeps you from feeling you’re saving the world. You are producing infotainment, setting it down for people to read, and tomorrow you’ll do it again, when today’s words are carrying out the coffee grounds or scooping puppy poop. Words is words; even though they can ignite, there are a million more behind where those came from.

In other words, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t for one minute believe you’re the reason the earth can heal, now that you’re here.

So I’ve never struggled with getting a rough draft down. Until now. For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on just setting out the basics of a story. The whole while, my inner critic has been howling like a banshee, tearing like a panther, raging like a stuck bull.

Usually I’m pretty good at turning off those voices, sotto voice just beneath the surface of creativity: “This is crap; you don’t know what you’re doing; ‘you have made the mistake of thinking everything that happens to you is interesting’ ” (a succinct and heart-sinking sentence sent to Anne Lamott in a rejection letter). As Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” I always adhered to that.

Yet it seems lately as though each finger is burdened with a ghost, clinging as I type, all muttering a non-stop cacophony through which every word can be clearly heard: “You can’t do it. You can’t write any more. This is boring. This is bad grammar. This is bad writing. You are bad.” Tiny little ghosts, grinning an evil grin, unrelenting.

Shut up, I tell them; shut up. I would like to say that, with each word that fights its way out from under the babble, their voices diminish. But they don’t.

So, if this is the new phase of writing I’m entering, the “fight for your life” phase, one might call it, so be it. Eventually the shrieking voices will have to give up out of sheer boredom, I suppose, from being ignored.

But gol-amighty, I wish I knew where they came from so I could send them back there. I’m busy, here, and they’re taking up energy.

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Filed under bad writing, between books, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

What if Editors SOLD Books (in Big Stone Gap)?

nicholeRegular readers will know that I spent a week in NYC last month, doing a couple of events and goofing off visiting my editor Nichole (in the photo) and agent Pamela. During the course of the week, Jack and I were delighted to have a conversation with Ken, head of independent bookstore sales for Macmillan, and his assistant Matt; we talked about coping mechanisms for small guys, marketing strategies for big guys, and the very hopeful demographics showing rises from 2011-2013 not only in sales of books at indie bookstores, but in the number of indie bookstores that are out there.
After the conversation, Nichole made the casual comment that she wished she knew more about how indie bookstores sold books. “It’s like the Gold Standard of bookselling, the handsell. And I’ve certainly recommended lots of books to lots of people, but I’ve never stood in a shop and sold one.”
Thus an idea was born. Nichole and her trusty assistant Laura have been saying repeatedly they’d love to visit Big Stone Gap. In addition, my publicist Jessica is from Richmond, VA, and she’s never been to the more rural climes. So here’s my cunning plan: we need people to explain to Nichole’s editor-in-chief why Nichole and Laura and Jess could really use a week of handselling experience in a small town.laura chasen
Wouldn’t it be great to have Nichole and Laura (in the photo) and Jess spend a few days RUNNING The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap?  Pamela, my agent, has often said that if prospective authors who send pitches to agents had to sell the books they were pitching, they’d change their pitch—and tune. You have to know what will and won’t sell—and how to sell it—to write a good query letter.
Nichole and I have often talked about the failed algorithms of A**zon, how people who want to read books that don’t quite fit a specific category can’t find them, don’t know they’re out there, and how sales reps (that is, those who sell books in bulk to bookstores from publishers) have to make things easy for the stores and build their own relationships of trust in order to do their jobs well. And that there’s a disconnect between the writers, the editorial shapers, and the sellers. Think of it: Manhattan’s finest editors bridging those gaps (in The Gap!).
jessicaSo here’s what we need: leave a comment on this blog saying why Nichole and Laura and Jess (in the photo of her birthday dinner with us in NYC) should get to spend a week (okay, three days) running our shop. (Don’t worry about Pamela and her assistant Michelle; we have a completely different plan for them.) And while the trio are down here we can show them a good time. Please, in your comments, explain why this is a good idea to Nichole’s boss (who will be interested).
And if Nichole and Laura and Jess get to visit, we’ll throw a party, and y’all can come say hi!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Memorable Moments from Write Comes to the Cumberlands

Write Comes to the Cumberlands was held this past Saturday in Turkey Cove, at my friend Elizabeth’s old farmhouse. We had six writers, and a lot of fun. Here is a guest blog from Angelic, one of the participants who traveled from Missouri to be with us.

Elizabeth sighed contentedly from the back seat and I could hear the smile in her voice, “I’ve always loved Big Stone Gap, but I have to say that it’s even better since Jack and Wendy came.”  This was one of the more memorable moments of Write Comes to the Cumberlands for me.  I feel the same way – only different.

A week or so prior, Wendy had left me a note on Facebook wanting to know what I was looking for from the workshop, if I had something I was working on or was I hoping to start something new.  I hastily touch-screened a reply back to her on my cell phone in between phone calls and emails at work, blithering disconnectedly about blogging for my own bookstore, writing my life story, and making time to write in the first place.  She came back with a succinct version of “I think I heard you say….” And I responded with my even shorter confirmation of, “Wow. You’re good.”

However, I sat dumbfounded at the desk in my room the morning of the workshop– I had no idea what to write.  Wendy had started the day with a printed itinerary that included slots for each attendee to spend time one-on-one with her – I absolutely had to come up with SOMETHING.  Wendy’s words came back to me, “Build your word count.” “But with what?” I puzzled inwardly.  Wendy had said, “It’s like stringing a bowl of beads together.”  I checked my phone, where I kept my lists and notes, for a ‘bead’ of inspiration.  I felt compelled to come up with material for my bookstore blog, but these ‘beads’ were dull – ‘make bed’, ‘do laundry’, ‘price books’ – not real exciting stuff there.  Wendy’s words came back to me again, “Just get it down, don’t look, don’t edit, just keep writing.”  She was assuming I had a bowl of beads.  And I didn’t even have a shot glass of beads.

Right before we left for the workshop, I had grabbed a blank notebook that I found and tossed into my overnight bag for something to write on.  I opened it now just to be moving in the right direction. The notebook wasn’t blank after all.  I recognized the writing as my own and began to read.  It was an entry I’d written shortly after my mother’s death.  The tears began to flow – and so did the words – and I started stringing the ‘beads’ together, writing my story – another memorable moment from Write Comes to the Cumberlands.

After lunch, we all decided it would be a good idea to take a quick walk to fend off the desire to nod off during our afternoon session of writing.  Wendy led us down the gravel road towards some bridge I didn’t catch the name of, strolling leisurely a few yards ahead with fellow workshop attendees, Martha and Cathie.  My husband and I chatted with Mary, another workshop attendee, taking our time, enjoying the company and the weather. It was a beautiful day, mist rising off the mountains, butterflies fluttering about en masse, the sun toasting the tops of our heads  from above.

Wendy paused as we neared the top of a hill, turning toward us. “We’re about two-thirds of the way there.  Do we want to keep going?  Or…?”  We started to hem and haw, but were cut short by a crack of thunder so abrupt and so close, we all spun around on our heels like synchronized swimmers, laughing nervously as we made haste back to the farmhouse, Wendy chortling, “You can’t make this stuff up!”

Thankfully, I didn’t have to make anything up for this guest blog.  Elizabeth was right, I’ve always loved writing, but I have to say, it’s even better since Write Comes to the Cumberlands.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

Write Comes to the Cumberlands

August 9-10 is WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS – yeah yeah, so I like puns. This is an all-day workshop on  Saturday 10th when you can work on your novel or narrative non-fiction.

It’s being held in scenic Lee County, VA, at a hundred-year-old farmhouse in Turkey Cove. Participants arrive the night before for an optional opening session and find their sleeping quarters (beds available from cheap and cheerful to elegant and private, $10 to $50 per night). The next day after a home-cooked farm breakfast we’ll gather around the table to talk projects, do some prompting exercises, set personal goals and strategies, and then off you go to write, write, write. Throughout the day you can have private critiques and we will regroup in the afternoon to discuss publication options and whether to find an agent. It all happens in an encouraging atmosphere.

From beginners on up, this workshop focuses on ideas, productivity, and jumping the hurdles that hold us back. We meet for supper at 5:30, then drive to the bookstore (4 miles away) for an evening of reading your works and enjoying music together, 7-9 pm.

The workshop without accommodation is $140 and includes all-day Saturday meals and snacks. If you are interested in attending, slip over to the Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC page on Facebook and check out the invitation.

Payment can be made via Paypal to jbeck69087@aol.com; or you can mail a check to the bookstore (address is on the FB page). Payments are 100% refundable until August 3. Questions? Ask them here or leave them on the FB page.

My friend Elizabeth, whose majestic farmhouse will be the site of this workshop, will be blogging about it at the end of the month. A gourmet cook and a medical doctor with a passion for flavorful and healthy local food, her meals will be as wonderful as the fun of gathering with other writers to get your gumption on.

Ready to write? Ready to roll? Let’s do this thing!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

The Ceiling that Started It All

palmer house cornerJack and I were sitting in the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago when my book sold; I talked to two different publishing houses, chose one, and off we went.

It’s a story I’ve been reliving from telling it at back-to-back literary festivals these past three days, and because my friend Tele Aadsen has sold her memoir. Rejoicing at a fellow writer’s recognition sparks happy memories.

Tele’s book on being a fisherwoman, which caught bids from no less than four publishing houses, will be out in about a year. Her blog is HOOKED; it comes right up if you google her. If you want to read my “sold the book” story, it’s “THE DAY THE BORDERS CLOSED AND OPENED AT THE SAME TIME” in the December blog postings.

palmer house ceilingBack to that ceiling: The Palmer House Hotel in Chicago is a wonderful place, and since Jack and I got it on a last-minute half-price deal a week before we left, it wasn’t ruinously expensive. And they have a swimming pool. Getting into water always makes me happy.

I sat under this glorious human-made sky, feeling like anything in the world was possible, the day the competing editors talked to me about their vision for my book. It was a heady time, and Editor Nichole turned out to be as lovely as she sounded that first day. She shaped and smoothed, guided with a gentle hand, and smiled the whole time with more than just gritted teeth. She was having fun, and that was fun.

teleWhich is what I’m wishing for Tele, whose sky and sea are of a different hue and temperament, and for all my new friends made these past three days. Whether you self-publish or work with a house, may you have a voice you trust, a hand whose firmness is comforting rather than restraining, and fun, fun, fun. Underneath the miasma of economics and marketing and other underbelly necessities of publishing, there are stories waiting to be told. Great stories, quiet stories, honest and enlightening stories, tales that will make us laugh and think and remember.

So here’s to all the storytellers giving us back the tales of our lives. I lift my own cup of overflowing happiness to you, and wish you well.

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