A Sure-Fire List to Help Motivate Your Inner Writer Into Actually Writing! Follow This List Carefully and You Will Be Writing Again!

Have I done a list lately? I should keep a list of the lists I list. Or is that list the lists I keep?

In a writing slump? Finding it hard to finish that Great Canadian (American, Armenian or otherwise) Novel? Trying to dedicate more time to writing this year because you’re one of those people who makes New Year Resolutions? Follow this list to a tee and you should find yourself back on the writing wagon. If you’re already on the writing wagon and you follow this list, you will find yourself even more connected to your writing. My point? Follow this list and you will write more.

The questionnaire
Do not skip items on this list. Follow it closely, or there is no hope for you. If you falter, you might go gently into the night and get lost forever in the vast vacuous land of NOT WRITING. Proceed with caution and a willingness to adapt yourself to the points made on the upcoming list you are about to read…

How to Write When You’re Not Feeling Writerly (OR When You’re Feeling Stabby and Murderous Towards Words, How Do You Embrace Them and Make Them Work in Your Favour…Even Though You Hate Them)


  1. Turn OFF the social media and Click the wifi to OFF. I know it’s impossible to imagine, but these things are distractions…killers of the imagination, even while they are stimulating it. If you follow this first item in this list, you will significantly increase your outflow of words. The increase could quite possibly be tenfold.
  2. See the first item in this list. Quite frankly, if you got this far in the list you aren’t following the steps properly.
  3. ARE YOU STILL HERE. Stop reading this. Turn off the internet and write.
  4. Don’t make me yell at you. SIT. WRITE. Open only one window…whatever program it is you use to write with.
  5. I’m gonna keep this list short and to the point. Only 5 items. Item 5 is CLOSE THIS WINDOW. SIT. WRITE. <<This advice works if you’re a beginner writer, or if you’re someone like that up-and-comer Stephen King…who has a couple books under his belt.

If you’re still here, clearly you’re not heeding my warnings. If you’d rather read than write, click on the image below to get yourself over to GOODREADS to enter to win a paperback copy of my latest novel, BURN BABY BURN BABY. The contest ends JANUARY 11, 2015!

goodreads

If you’re on INSTAGRAM, follow the steps in the picture below to win a paperback copy of BURN BABY BURN BABY in the INSTAGRAM contest! The easiest way to enter this one would be to go to Instagram and repost this image from my account. Instagram is sometimes tricky with resizing, etc.

Follow the Directions in this image to enter to win a paperback of Burn Baby Burn Baby on Instagram!
Follow the Directions in this image to enter to win a paperback of Burn Baby Burn Baby on Instagram!

Okay…now there is still a chance for you. Turn it all off. SIT. WRITE. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. No magical equation. No tricks or gimmicks. To write more all you need to do is write more. One word in front of the other without the everyday distractions that weigh you down and mess with your creativity and drive. SIT. WRITE.

Zuzu’s Petals! Make Your Magic Authentic to Your Readers!

Unless one has never heard of the invention of a television, it’s fairly safe to assume that we all know the reference ZUZU’S PETALS. In case one among you (AND YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) has not yet seen a particular movie, I shall explain Zuzu’s Petals before going into the point I want to make about writing. (-:

ZUZU’S PETALS. They are perhaps the most glorious evidence of magic that we have in the universe today. Let’s just go right to it, shall we. Behold! Zuzu’s petals!

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ZUZU and her PETALS!

 

Aren’t they glorious!? The most beautifully gorgeous symbolism in all of moviedom! Yes…I’m excited. Of course I’m excited. I get excited every time I think about those petals. And tis the season.

In the above picture you will see Zuzu Bailey and her father George Bailey. They are characters in the movie IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Zuzu’s story is a sad one. But it’s also one that is, at first glance, such a small insignificant role in the vast scheme of things. At first glance. I’m going to forgo the announcement that a spoiler follows here. Because all but maybe one of you have seen It’s a Wonderful Life.

Zuzu comes home from school with a beautiful flower and can’t wait to show her father. But some of the petals have fallen off. George, in his infinite desire to please everyone–and especially his lovely Zuzu–pretends to reattach the petals. But he secretly slips them into his pocket. Zuzu’s tragedy is averted, and her love and adoration for her father grows three sizes that day. Her flower is returned to its beautiful self and her tears retreat.

George Bailey then falls into the rabbit hole. He is taken into a world that would be the world how it would exist if he had never been born. It’s a much bleaker, darker world. It’s quite frankly a terrible world. It’s also a world in which Zuzu’s petals do not exist–no George means no Zuzu. Folks, don’t ever shout to the universe, “I WISH I WAS NEVER BORN!” That’s a rabbit hole you will not want to go down, right there.

As the movie wraps up, George is allowed to reverse his error and come back into the world he left behind. He has seen the vast changes his life-force has created in the world. He knows that the third rock from the sun is a better place with him in it. His faith in humanity is restored and he feels glorious.

Of course, he must be thinking, ‘Wow. What an awesome dream!‘ Because something otherworldly like that just can’t happen, right? But lo and behold…George Bailey reaches into his pocket and what does he find there? You guessed it! ZUZU’S PETALS. They were a huge symbol the whole time. Right in front of our noses. George IS. And how does he know he is? Because ZUZU is. Because…Zuzu’s petals!

“Zuzu’s petals…Zuzu… There they are!”

Today’s lesson for writers is simple. In truth, I just wanted an excuse to talk about Zuzu’s petals. Because they’re glorious and what not.

Firstly, did you know that It’s a Wonderful Life is based on a short story called The Greatest Gift. Written by Philip Van Doren Stern, it was privately published. I have to wonder if that means self-published.

My point? I do have one. No matter what magic you write into your story, it must be authentic. I use the term magic loosely here, because this can apply to any genre…not just magical realism or fantasy or paranormal or anywhere you would normally find MAGIC. I’m talking about anything from coincidences to ghosts to flying to world-building to Zuzu’s petals. Put clues in your work to authenticate the reality you want your reader to step into. Subtle clues. Tidbits of information that they can reflect back on when they reach the story’s conclusion. Something that will make them go, “AHA!”

I don’t know about you…but I eat that stuff up. I was just a child when I first watched It’s a Wonderful Life. And, for me…the most magical part wasn’t George suddenly running through a town that was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than the same town we were just previously shown. The most magical part wasn’t the way people who lived as adults had suddenly died as children and lived-in houses became empty haunted spaces and even the TOWN became renamed in the blink of an eye. The most magical part were those petals. Placed lovingly into a pocket in the most subtle way…so that I would both remember their significance and forget their significance. Those petals were a glorious flower themselves…planted as a seed in a threadbare pocket. And when they blossomed, when George reached into his pocket and discovered those beautiful babies…well, my world stopped.

So the lesson for writers today is this—do that! Give your readers a whole boatload of Zuzu’s petals. Be like Hansel and Gretel. Leave glorious breadcrumbs throughout your story…breadcrumbs that will validate the story itself, make it more authentic. Every reader loves a great AHA moment. Just don’t manipulate them. Your breadcrumbs can’t have huge glowing neon signs on them that scream, “LOOK AT ME!” They need only be a few crumpled petals placed lovingly in a pocket in an effort to staunch the tears of a loved one.

It’s Not What You Say But What You Say and How You Say It – The Art of Talking Good Dialogue

For me, the chatter that takes place between the pages of a book is the most important part of the book. The connecting prose is merely the scaffolding, if you will.

There could be quite a few things wrong with a book, but if the talk is authentic it can still have legs. Yes, as writers we should concentrate on ALL aspects of our craft. It is incumbent upon us to do so. But I honestly believe there should be extra emphasis on the dialogue. The minute that becomes inauthentic and weighty, the book starts to take on water. Bad dialogue? It may never recover. For me, it’s the most inexcusable flaw in story. That’s why we should pay extra close attention to the words we choose to put in our characters’ mouths. Those words carry a LOT of weight!

Toronto City Hall Festival of Lights - The Secret to Writing Good Dialogue is to make yourself a part of the crowd. LISTEN. Then write!
Toronto City Hall Festival of Lights – The Secret to Writing Good Dialogue is to make yourself a part of the crowd. LISTEN. Then write!

It’s been a while, so… time for a list.

5 Quick & Easy Step to Writing More Gooder Dialogue

  1. Sorry about the list title. Every once in a while I like to make my writing readers twitch. I know that title is going to make someone scream. The FIRST step to writing excellent dialogue is LISTENING. It’s an easy step and it’s one you can do anywhere, anytime, anyhow. You don’t need any props or expensive equipment. Just plop yourself down somewhere and lend an ear to the environment in which you happened to have plopped. Great places in my Dialogue Listening Toolbox? DLTβ„’ πŸ™‚ My favourite for a while was Arrivals at the airport. Man, the dialogue! Coffee Shops, Subway Stations, Bars, Office Water Coolers, Hospital Emergency Waiting Rooms. You see where I’m going here, right. Anywhere! Just go somewhere where there are lots of people. Sit. Listen.
  2. Use slang and bastardized language at the proper acceptance threshold. Don’t weigh down your dialogue with an excruciatingly heavy amount of bastardized language or dialects. Just enough to suggest to the reader that it’s there. The only place I accept ANYWAYS ever is in dialogue. I do NOT consider ANYWAYS to be a word. In fact, the dictionary usually says this of ANYWAYS:Β informal or dialect form of anyway. So slang-a-lang-a-ding-dong is acceptable in dialogue. Because people use it. People hyphenate and shorten and murder words when they speak. So it is acceptable in dialogue. Don’t pepper it into your prose outside of those quotation marks, though!
  3. READ YOUR DIALOGUE OUT LOUD. Do NOT ignore this crucial step. I cannot help you, if you do. I consider it absolutely imperative to read dialogue out loud. It is unforgivable not to. If, when you’re reading it alive, you think, “NOBODY WOULD ACTUALLY SAY THIS. NOT THIS WAY.”, then you will know why this step is so important. And it will happen. I don’t think anybody writes perfect dialogue in a first pass. READ. IT. OUT. LOUD. If you have friends who will read it aloud with you, all the better. Sit together and go over the dialogue parts of your manuscript like you would a play reading.
  4. Don’t be afraid to murder your dialogue darlings. Sometimes, as writers, we write the perfect sentence. Then we sit back and bask in the warmth of the glow coming off that sentence. But quite often that stellar sentence is as useless as bark on a donkey. CUT IT! If your character gave some brilliant soliloquy that is just shining with the beauty of our language, but said soliloquy kills the flow of story by taking the reader out of its depth, SLASH IT. It’s your beautiful darling, but it just hiccupped your reader. Don’t do that!
  5. I don’t really have a #5 so I will just leave you with this. SAID rules!

Now get out there and LISTEN. It’s easy. SIT AND LISTEN. Then… SIT AND WRITE.

Solitary by Design – The Writing Life

Yesterday I talked about writers and community by sharing some information about the writing community I myself am entrenched in. Today, I wanted to talk about the solitary life of the writer. Because when it comes right down to it, we need to be solitary while in the thick of things. Putting words on the screen is done by a committee of one. In today’s social media based universe, it is becoming more and more difficult to focus long enough to put words on the screen when those words are in a manuscript. IF you’re easily distracted.

Guess what. I’m extremely easily distracted. I could easily write 3,000 words in an afternoon. And suddenly realize that all 3,000 words were shot off into the social media stratosphere…while my manuscript lies dormant.

That’s not a good thing.

I sometimes wonder how many of Mark Twain’s short stories (or novels, for that matter) would not have been written had he had a Twitter account and/or a Facebook account.

Wondering about things is what often gets me into trouble. If I had my TWENTY MINUTES back every time I wondered about something and ran to Google, only to be lost in a vortex of wondering and searching and reading, I would have hours of writing time accumulated. I’d be able to write a novel in one sitting with that lost time. Sadly, lost time stays lost. One of the biggest skills a writer can possess in today’s information epoch is CONCENTRATION and an unflappable ability to FOCUS. Please God, give me focus!

I sometimes go days…no, weeks…without opening a manuscript. I intend on writing every day. I used to write every day religiously. I still conceptualize myself as a person who writes every day. Man, I’m bad. I have this ONE THING. And I mess it up.

And what am I doing about it. Writing about the fact that I’m not writing. I’m participating in the social media phenomenon of blogging as a way to distract myself from writing. I feel like somewhere inside that runaround logic I should declare myself a winner. But if I stand up and shout to the universe, “WINNING!” I might be declared insane. What I need to do is give myself structure so that I’m back to an every day writing schedule. Maybe I can limit my social media time better if I schedule it. Maybe I can fly to the moon with the wings on my back, too.

You have to WANT it. Wanting is winning, IMHO. Right now, I’m not as hungry as I used to be. But I’m coming to the conclusion that social media IS killing some of the best writers out there. Proof? Oh, I gotcher proof. Let’s go back to Mark Twain, shall we…

EXHIBIT A
EXHIBIT A

Above, you will see exhibit A. I offer this as proof that some of the world’s greatest writers are being gobbled up by their own egotistical need to spam, blather, purge, gab, selfie themselves, and pontificate on social media. I came up with the theory and it took about six seconds on Google to prove it!

When was the last time you witnessed new work from Mark Twain? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?! Yet, he has all the time in the world to tweet about his life. He’d rather tweet past quotes and reflections than sit down and put new words to the screen. Social media has swallowed Mark Twain whole. We may never see another new work by this great author. WHY? Because he’s too busy tweeting, Facebooking, and pontificating. I won’t even search out his snapchat account. Heaven help us!

Are you a writer?

It’s time to take a pass on some of the distractions of the modern social media frenzy. Give yourself a daily scheduled block of time where you ONLY work on your Work-In-Progress. Don’t multitask inside this time-frame. Choose writing! Leave all your other windows closed…because you know if you don’t a little birdie is going to fly in at just the right moment to take you away from your work at hand. Twitter can wait. Facebook can wait. Blogging can wait. Tumblr can wait. Forums can wait. The NYT can even wait. Make YOUR writing the priority…at least once a day.

We have witnessed the decline of one of the world’s greatest literary treasures. Mark Twain may never again come out of the social media spiderweb long enough to give us new material. We all lose there. Don’t rob us of any other great works of literature. Sit. Write. Repeat…

Β 

Remember that it’s great to be social. Writers together is an awesome thing. To a point. Sooner or later you need to leave the party long enough to write. Writing–the actual act–is solitary. By design. Like I said. Sit. Write.

The party will wait for you…

Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris – A Writer at Work – Please Excuse the Blog Silence…

I will be slipping into the blog cone of silence once again. (-: Today I head to Paris and the LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to go to Paris. It’s at the very top of my bucket list. In fact, a visit to the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris IS the #1 item on that list. And guess where I will be heading while I’m in Paris! (-:

I will be taking small workshops every day while I’m there…little exercises in the exploration of all things writing. On the menu is; poetry, finding your voice, place as character and more. PLUS—we will be exploring Hemingway’s Paris AND F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Paris.

You can find out about the retreat by clicking RIGHT HERE. You know, in case you’re thinking you may want to go to the retreat NEXT year. I hear it’s an annual thing. (-:

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

Do I wish to retrace the footsteps of Hemingway? Absolutely. His A MOVEABLE FEAST is one of my all-time favourite books. I’m going to attempt to re-read it on my flight over tonight. Although I tend to do nothing but sleep while on airplanes. I can’t seem to keep my eyes open. I’m not too worried about it, though. I have practically memorized the book. (-;

Some of my favourite Moveable Feast quotes:

β€œYou expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”~ ERNEST HEMINGWAY, A Moveable Feast

β€œBy then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.”~ ERNEST HEMINGWAY, A Moveable Feast

β€œFor a poet he threw a very accurate milk bottle.”~ ERNEST HEMINGWAY, A Moveable Feast

I’m going to Paris for Hemingway. And for Paris itself. I believe it to be a beautiful city. I’m about to find out if reality matches my belief…

 

See you on the flipside. (-:

Please don’t forget to check out my previous post! I’m having a fundraiser for MALESURVIVOR. For a limited time, 100% of the royalties of my book sales will be going towards their Weekend of Recovery Scholarship program.

A Writer’s To-Do List of Non-Writing Stuff That Will Help With Writing

All writers have time before and after (and in-between) writing time. How should we use that time? Better yet, how could we use that time in a way that may be useful to the B.I.C. (Bum In Chair) time we are afforded for our writing?

How about we make a short list?

  • READ MORE – This is the easiest thing a writer can do to assist their own writing skills. What you put in to reading, you get back tenfold as a writer. As your neurons are connecting in new and interesting ways with the stories you read on the page, so too is your imagination working in the background on your own creative avenues of adventure. Never underestimate the power that reading gives you as a writer.
  • RECOGNIZE THAT YOU ARE A PART OF A BIGGER FAMILY – It doesn’t matter what we write, writers have great opportunities to commune with one another in many interesting ways. Join writing circles, both in-person and online. Help other writers and accept help from other writers. There is SO much you can do. Host them on your blog, either in the form of a guest post or an interview. Offer to beta read their work. Be creative…if you can think of something that would benefit you, chances are it would benefit your fellow writer.
  • NOTE TO SELF – This sounds corny, but it helps. Really, it does. Leave yourself little post-it notes on your mirror. Today, I will write an amazing sentence! I will edit Chapter 16 today! Today I will finish my first draft! I am a great writer! I will be published! I am going to submit something today! An agent is going to ask me for a full! You get the picture. Write yourself positive affirmations about your writing, about your writing life…
  • VISIT THE HARD STUFF – We all skirt that place in our minds where we fear to tread. You know those demons you carry but dare not write about. Go there. Go to the deepest darkest place you can find inside of yourself…and when you come back from the journey, write from there! Be fearless. Your heart has a story to tell. Listen to it. Be authentic.
  • GO FOR A WALK – Yes. A walk. It’s simple. β™ͺβ™«Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking across the flo-o-or. Put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door.β™ͺβ™« Do silent meditation walks through the forest. Walk downtown and listen to the traffic. Walk downtown and listen to music screaming in your headphones as you drown out the traffic. It doesn’t matter how you do it…a walk is a fantastic thing for a writer to take. Your mind forgets the niggling day to day things when you’re out for a brisk walk…it’s free to wander. You can get it working for you in writerly ways.
  • TAKE YOUR SHIT SERIOUSLY – Write out goals for yourself. This is a bit like the post-it notes, but the mind is a terrible enemy of the heart. We have to repeatedly poke it to get it to do what we want it to do sometimes. Once your goals are on paper, see to it that you achieve them. You’re the only one standing in your way. Nobody else is going to give a shit if you succeed or fail. Do it for you. 200 words a day times 365 days is 73,000 words. Break your goals down into manageable bites if need be. I just showed you an example of this with a goal to write a novel in 1 year. Seems like a hell of a hard thing to do—write a novel in a year. Then you break it down into 200 words a day and you can’t imagine not being able to write a measly 200 words in one day. 200 words is nothing, right? This bullet point alone is almost 200 words. Do this many words every day for a year and you have yourself a novel. Treat your writing like it’s important—like your shit matters. Because it does. It’s yours. It’s the result of your creativity. That’s golden.
  • SERIOUSLY, CHILLAX – Writing is fun. Writing is allowing your creative side to do cartwheels across the floor. Writing is liberating your inner-child to sing at the top of his/her voice in the library where quietude is mandatory. Writing is using every colour in the crayon box to colour in your horse, just because you want to. Don’t, for the love of god and all things holy, make it a chore. When you feel that writing is becoming a chore, step away from it. You’re doing it wrong. Go read some poetry—maybe Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss. Don’t be serious. But be serious.
  • FIND WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE – Yes. Do it. Book yourself at an open mic event. Or get your own audience of friends and peers and read aloud from your work in front of them. Get yourself into a writing commitment with a seriously scarey deadline. Offer to teach a workshop at your local library. Do something that will put you out on a limb without a paddle, or up a river without a parachute. Make yourself breathless with fear.
  • TAKE INTERESTING COURSES THAT HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH WRITING BUT LOADS TO DO WITH CREATIVITY – You must have other interests? Macrame? Underwater Basket-Weaving? Photography? Stained-Glass Window Design? Theatre Arts & Drama? Oil Painting? Finger Painting? Bamboo Carving? Glass Blowing? Totem Pole Carving? All these things feed the creative monster inside. Learning new skills also gives you more to write about.