Monthly Archives: July 2017

Week Six Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week six of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group — we’re closing in on the summer and on our project goals!

Here are our week six goals.

Week Six Goals:

Anne:

I need a Patriot Pass for last week, but I’m continuing with Gardner this week.

Bev:

Week 6: I am going on vacation and will keep a journal of my trip.

Cynthia:

This week, I have two goals:

1.  Continue with writing and revising my Library Assessment course group project of doom.
2.  Continue to find and annotate sources for my Law Librarianship course in advance of Thursday’s online workshopping session (nothing like a deadline to make me produce words)!

Laura:

I didn’t make progress on my creative writing, but I did some writing for my graduate class. This week I need to write another annotated bibliography, and catch up on my blog posts.

Lisa:

Last week was fun, but I got NO writing accomplished.
This week, I hope to write five pages.

Mike:

Week 5: Revised a few more pages of my short story, continuing with the third-person-to-first-person conversion I started last week. Realized I still had some logistical and motivational issues to sort out in the plot, so I started thinking through those as I revised (eliminating altogether some of the passages that had troubled/bored me the most upon my initial re-read).

Week 6: Complete revisions (ahem, again) while doing some research into antique reselling and siblings screwing each other out of family heirlooms, since that is the key backstory in my short story, and there’s just not enough detail there yet to make it fully come to life.

Rachel:

Admittedly I’ve been slacking a bit this week with writing group—but mostly because I’ve been writing other things, so that’s good, right?? (YES!) One of the essays I’d written last year (around the time of winter writing group, actually) is being published later this week, so I’ll cheat a little and say that was an accomplishment :/ This week is a little crazy at work and I know I’m going to have limited creative energy, so I’ll shoot to go through my old notebooks and flesh out some of the stuff I’ve written before, to stock up for my blog. Love that low-hanging fruit!

Robert:

This week wrote 4,153 words. Next week’s goal is 7,000.

Sarah:

Coming soon…

 

This week’s resource post is about listening: listening to the people around you and finding other resources to listen to.

I tell my creative writing students that good listening skills are essential to writers. We need to listen when others talk if we’re going to write realistic and believable dialogue; and we need to listen to what people say to identify what they’re revealing and what they’re hiding. We learn someone’s life story by listening to what they say, but we learn someone’s character by identifying what they leave out.

We also need to listen to the world around us because it’s our environment that provides the richest details for our writing: we just have to pay attention. Right now, there’s a garbage truck rolling through my neighborhood, picking up and dumping trash cans. The cans aren’t really cans at all, but thick rubber, and the sounds they make thudding back on the ground from the truck’s fork lift is an uneven thud. The truck’s brakes gives a dirty sounding wheeze whenever it stops in front of another house, and I can hear that it’s about three houses away.

We can also seek outside resources to listen to in the form of podcasts. I’m a huge fan of podcasts, and because they’ve become so popular in the past few years, there seems to be a series for everything and everyone. It’s not surprising, then, that there are tons of writing podcasts out there. One of my favorite reading websites, Book Riot, put together a list of good podcasts for writers.

Some series are long and some are short; some you’ll love and some you will…not love. But there’s something in there for everyone, so give them a listen!

Until next week, writers: keep your ears open and your pencils ready.

Write on!

Advertisements

Productivity: It’s Not Just For Robots!

This is the second go-around in our writing group for Rachel Kwon: she first appeared during the Winter 2017 session, and she wrote her excellent first guest post in January. I’m happy she’s back in the group summer (especially since she’s considering starting her own blog, and blogs are great!) and I’m thrilled that she’s here for her second guest post!

This is a guest post from Rachel Kwon, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

I like to think of myself a semi-serious amateur writer (and a very serious fried chicken enthusiast, but that’s another story for another day), and while I am still shaky on the creative elements of writing—you know, producing words so earth-shattering that readers weep and call their mothers immediately thanking them for giving them life so they could read the work—there is one thing I know pretty well, and that’s productivity. Productivity and smashing a to-do list are admittedly less sexy than a well-written piece, but they’re still necessary.

So, how does one self-motivate and make time for writing, particularly writing for leisure, when there are so many other things competing for time and attention? I think a big part of it is simply creating structures and treating it seriously, even if it’s “just for fun.” I’ve found that these three things have helped me improve my writing (and also simply to enjoy it more):

1. Establish a routine…

I don’t think the details really matter that much, but for me, as a hardcore morning person I do my best thinking when the sun is coming up, so about a year ago, I started doing a thing where I would wake up, stretch, put on the coffee, and literally just start writing. Just 15 minutes or so, in my journal, sitting at my writing desk, about whatever was in my head. It was writing that I would just do for myself, but I found that by doing it regularly in this way, I’d come up with ideas for stories or essays that I’d want to share with other people, and it became easier to do that by just having a dedicated time to do it. (Our post about momentum last week really resonated with me, because I feel that having my routine is sort of like free momentum—it’s always easier to keep things going once they’ve already started than to start a brand new thing, and that’s what my routine has offered.)

Rachel's Writing Space

Rachel’s supremely covetable writing space

2. …but know when to stray from it.

Interestingly, early-bird-writing is the exact opposite of the routine I had for over a decade, which was 15 minutes of writing, lying prone on my pillow, before going to sleep. The circumstances of my life were different and I needed to wake up around 4:30 or 5 a.m. so I didn’t quite have that same zest for writing in those wee hours (or for anything—I don’t care how much of a morning person you are; there’s a very fine line between late night and early morning and I believe that line is around 4:30 a.m.). I also like to mix up the setting sometimes and write in the park or in a coffee shop or on the subway (not during rush hour, because then I would have to write into a stranger’s armpit, which is less fun). Some of my best writing has been scribbled on the back of a bar napkin.

3. Don’t overthink it.

Overthinking plagues me. I can’t help but obsess over the most seemingly trivial details. I used to be of the mindset that I should choose my words extremely carefully, and not write them unless I really meant them. That might be a good philosophy if I were using a typewriter, and a typo (literally!) or some imperfect phrasing really was a disaster, but these days I’ve adopted more of a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” mentality, and oddly enough, I find that I’m a lot more productive when I just write SOMETHING, anything, and then whittle it down to what I actually want to say, the way I want to say it. These days I spend HALF as much time and energy writing a draft of something, no matter how horrendous it is, so I can spend TWICE as much time editing. Someone once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “You don’t win the Tour de France by reading about the race and planning the perfect ride; you win by getting out there, riding every day, and making incremental improvements each time you do.” There is definitely an element of “just do it”-ness involved.

So, there it is. I have some other quirks that I think help, like my preference for Muji 0.38 mm black pens, but those are the high-level structures that I believe have allowed me to be productive with my writing. Now, I think it’s fried chicken time!

 

Thank you, Rachel! Now, go get some chicken.

And the rest of you, write on.

giphy2

If I dance fast enough, Rachel can’t eat me! (Image via Giphy)

Week Five Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week five of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group — how you guys feeling? I’m feeling all write! (yes punnnnnnns!)

I offered up a Patriot Pass this week — some people were traveling and knew they wouldn’t be doing much with the short holiday week — so whenever you see it, please imagine those writers doing this:

giphy1

Actually, please imagine everyone doing this.

Here are our week five goals.

Week Five Goals:

Anne:

My reading of the Gardner book has been transformative. I’m continuing it this week.

Bev:

I am done with my course revisions! During week five, I am going to write a letter, because I haven’t since January.

Cynthia:

Patriot Pass!

Laura:

I did a little work on my new story. It wasn’t as much as I’d wanted, but it counts! Next week I’m going to keep chipping away at it. I got a great idea for another new story during my class this week and I’m going to keep it on the back burner. It might be a nice distraction next week, or something I can do toward the end of the summer.

Lisa:

Patriot Pass!

Mike:

Week four progress: Once I started revising the story in question, I realized how badly it was being served by the third-person narration I’d used (i.e. boring as shit). I rewrote about six pages out of the current twelve to first person, and I’ve been really happy with the effect it’s had on the voice. I also moved a few passages around and hit at least two scenes that need to be scrapped or rewritten altogether (as the change in voice wasn’t quite enough to fix them).

Week five goal: Finish revising the remaining pages of the story in its new first-party voice. I missed the contest deadline, so I will be reading some past issues of a few other lit journals to make sure the finished story would be something of interest to them.

Rachel:

I figured out most of the tech and logistical stuff behind launching my blog (I used to have one when I was a teenager and in college, and MAN, blogging has really changed since then!). I’d like to get a critical mass of posts, maybe five or so, before actually publishing, so this week’s goal will be to either select one from stuff I’ve written before (like my essay from last winter writing group, for example), or to write something afresh.

Robert:

This week: zero words.
Next week: goal is 7,000 words

Sarah:

Week 5 goals: I have to edit a new article I wrote on postmodernism and start another article, this time a case study because I need to change things up a bit. I started a 5-week graduate class so I also have some discussion posts to do. Then read, read, read as I pull articles for my course in the fall.

Ted:

Coming soon…

 

Because of the weird holiday week, I’m going to give everyone a couple of writing exercises from the book What If? by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. It’s one of those staples of a creative writing workshop (from the ’90s…) and my copy is yellow with age. But it’s still a good resource for writers.

What If Cover

The exercise I’m going to give you guys for today can be used to supplement your current project — try just a background scene that develops one of your minor characters, something you don’t have to include if the style is too much of a contrast  — or it can be a one-off if you need some space from your current project and want to just stretch your creative muscles for a couple of hours. Here it is:

THE EXERCISE

Write a short story using words of only one syllable.

THE OBJECTIVE

To make you conscious of word choice. (Bernays and Painter 194)

For my academic writers, you can try this, too. Work on a part of your research, lesson plan, syllabus and make everything one syllable. See how you can simplify wherever possible.

What If Exercise 70

(Bernays and Painter 194)

Have a safe and creative week, and as always, write on!

 

Bernays, Anne and Pamela Painter. What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers.
HarperPerennial, 1991.

Week Four: Summer 2017 Online Writing Group

It’s week four of the Summer 2017 Online Writing Group and words are happening!

giphy

Image via Giphy

Here are our week four goals.

Week Four Goals:

Anne:

I’ve changed course of little bit. Inspired by Laura’s post last week, I started reading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I have owned book for decades, and I even took it to Aruba last December / January to read, but I still haven’t read it. So that has become a priority for this week.

Bev:

Week Four goal: Finish course revisions. Period.

Cynthia:

This week will be devoted to gathering research and roughing out an outline of ye olde group project for Library Research Methods and Assessment. If time permits, I’ll continue to find and read sources for my Law Librarianship annotated bibliography project.

Laura:

I didn’t hit my week three progress, so my week four will be doing double-duty. I’m still looking for a good “home” for a short essay I wrote, and I need to start a new short story. I didn’t get the windmill blog post written, so that’s my job for this week as well.

Lisa:

Last week: Actually wrote about two pages!
Next week: Shooting for five more!

Mike:

This week was not productive. I made a few notes on the scenes I had planned and started the outline, but got distracted by work stuff. Towards the end of the week, it hit me that I had too many unfinished short stories floating around, so I decided to reconsider my overall goals and hold off on the new book for a few weeks.

Week Four: Complete a final round of revisions on a short story I’d workshopped over the winter and try to submit it to an Open Fiction contest that has a deadline this Friday…

Rachel:

I outlined some topics to write about for my book, and even started writing one of them. The idea I was thinking about for last week was to self-publish through a blog or something, and I think I’m going to try it. Lately, I’ve been trying to adopt a “done is better than perfect” mentality, which is hard because it’s the opposite of my gut instinct. Anyway, my new end-of-summer goal is to start publishing on a blog, and next week’s goal will be to figure out how to do it. (You know how I feel about blogs, Rachel! [I love them. I love blogs.])

Robert:

The last week’s goal was 7,000 words. I wrote 1,995 — I was out of town for three days.

This week’s goal, as usual, is 7,000 words, but I have four days of home renovation, so I doubt if I’ll make it. (Robert, you’re always ahead of the game, so do your renovations!)

Sarah:

Coming soon…

Ted:

I spent hours on this one sonnet, trying to capture an idea about courage. It seems so small, considering the time and effort and countless revisions. Anyway, that was my week three goal, to hammer and polish it to what seemed the right luster.

Week four goals are about re-entering a fiction work (a quasi-children’s fantasy) and finding that elusive momentum…

 

And thank you, Ted, for the perfect segue! This week I wanted to talk about momentum, specifically, keeping it. We’re in week four of our eight week session, and this might be the time you’re losing a bit of steam. You’ve made progress for almost a month, either by producing words and pages, ideas and outlines, or by letting your project consume many of your waking thoughts. And that’s exhausting.

Roo Sleeping

Roo is exhausted just listening to me type about it!

But even if you’re tired, you need to keep the momentum. And if you don’t think you have anything more to say right now about your project/s, then you can keep the momentum by revising.

Janet Burroway, author of an excellent book on writing that I use in my creative writing classes (and she’s appeared on the blog before), has five helpful questions to ask about your work as you’re revising:

Is the language fresh? Have you avoided clichés, familiar descriptions, and any unnecessarily abstract language?

Is it clear? Have you answered the journalist’s Ws: who, what, when, where, and why? Will the reader understand when scenes change, when time has passed, and when new characters are introduced?

Is it too long? Cut. Cut everything you don’t need. Cut adjectives. Cut words that aren’t moving things forward. Each word matters, so if you find one that doesn’t, get rid of it. (If I were revising this section, I’d delete everything except the first word: cut.)

Where is it underdeveloped? See below for an exercise to help you with this one.

Does it end? The ending does not need to be happy, nor easy, but it needs to happen. Your protagonist should change in some way, even if it’s small. She should accept something about herself; she should see the reality in which she exists; she should decide to act; or she should decide to not act. If none of this has happened, your story hasn’t ended. (Burroway 205 – 206)

Five easy questions to ask during any step in your writing process! The fourth question, about development, can be explored further with a writing exercise Burroway includes:

Burroway Try This 7.13

(Burroway 206)

Doing this exercise will help whenever you feel stuck or if you feel yourself slowing down. And if you need more help, get Burroway’s book and check out the excellent things she has to say about all aspects and genres of creative writing.

Until next week, write — and revise — on!

 

Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. 4th ed., Pearson, 2014.