Read Part 1
I have some introvert tendencies
So why do I want to write a book so badly? If I'd rather be out collaborating with people, why not just teach, drum, and be satisfied with my life? Because I have introvert tendencies. Namely, I'm a bookworm.
The other weekend I went to my in-law's cabin with my husband, his parents, his siblings and all their kids. Do you remember the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Yeah, his family is like that. Big. Loud. In your business. And loving, of course! My family is quite small in comparison, and when we get together, we usually keep to ourselves and/or do our own thing.
While at the cabin, I decided to pull out a book and read. Someone asked if I was unhappy. Had I been offended? Hardly! I just wanted to read! I felt very similar to Susan Cain who did the same thing at her summer camp when she was 9. Her camp director questioned what she was doing and encouraged her to be more outgoing, so Susan Cain put her books away. She says, "I felt kind of guilty...as if the books needed me somehow, and they were calling out to me and I was forsaking them."
I wasn't being anti-social when I decided to read at the cabin, I promise. I love my husband's family... our family. I just wanted some reading time. Thinking time. Alone time. Extroverts do that, too, you know. We don't crave it as much, maybe, but we enjoy it every once in a while.
As quoted by Susan Cain, "Carl Jung, the psychologist who first popularized these terms, said that there's no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. He said that such a man would be in a lunatic asylum, if he existed at all." (emphasis added)
A little bit of both is normal
When I was an RA, a psychologist talked with us about all this introvert-extrovert stuff. As counselors, we'd have the tricky task of mentoring and solving problems with the residents that lived in our hall and collaborating with each other on projects. Naturally, we'd need to learn how to work with introverts and extroverts. We'd also need to know which we were. (This is where I learned that I'm mostly an extrovert.)
In fact, some circumstances have forced us into using our non-dominant personality so much that we've become quite strong in it.
Learning to be a better introvert
As mentioned, I love collaborating and talking with people. It's where I get my best energy. When I was in 5th grade, my mom decided to go back to college. I was the youngest, so my siblings were all in junior high or high school. Dad had to work, so when I got home, I was alone. I hated it at first. I was bored, lonely and wanted someone to talk to. Like the good Hermione Granger I was, though, I decided to get my homework done while I waited for my sisters and parents to get home. It worked out great! I got my obligated-introvert-work out of the way before they got home, and then I'd be free to bug them!
I also started reading and writing more, just for fun! I always liked reading. Dad read to us when we were little. And I liked making up stories with my friends, so I probably had read and written stuff before this, but I think being forced into an introvert situation made me better at these hobbies.
Bringing it full circle
Like Susan Cain, I believe both personality types are important. One isn't more superior than another. There's value in doing extrovert and introvert things. Life would be pretty boring if we all were the same. So this is where I bring my musings full circle, back to how this all affects my writing.
Susan Cain says, "when psychologists look at the lives of the most creative people, what they find are people who are very good at exchanging ideas and advancing ideas, but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them." If you asked my close friends, they'd probably tell you that I'm pretty creative. Of course, creativity is like a muscle. It must be exercised.
So, I'm going to get back into my bathtub now and start rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. It's not the most comfortable thing for me. It's like an introvert speaking in public, really. But I can do it. And the more I do it, the better I'll get at it.
I watched an interesting TedTalk this morning. It's called "The Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain. It got me thinking about writing and the solo nature of the craft, so you get to hear my musings in this post.
A fellow ESL teacher told me to watch Susan Cain's talk. I didn't want to at first because I'm an extrovert, and all the Facebook memes I see about empowering introverts seem to slap me (an extrovert) in the face. They usually send the message that "Introverts are better! Get over yourself, extroverts! Stop being so loud and pushy!" I didn't want to watch an entire TedTalk about that and feel like rubbish because I like concerts and collaboration. I don't think extroverts are all loud and pushy.
I finally watched it because, as my coworker pointed out, a lot of our students are introvert. And it's important to understand where they're coming from and accommodate for their needs. Yes, after watching this video I feel like I have some ideas for how I want to transform my ESL classroom to better suit introverts. (After all, Susan Cain says that 1/3-1/2 of the population is introvert.) I also discovered, however one of the possible reasons why I frequently get writer's block. (Tom Laveen calls it "project-block.") My extroversion tendencies may be getting in the way of me becoming a published author. I'll explain my epiphany.
Sailing alone in a bathtub
I'm an extrovert. Yes. I think we've established that. I want to collaborate and talk ideas out. This is a good quality for a writer, actually. My creative writing teacher Josh says that revision is super collaborative. You need peer review, tough skin, and lots of collaboration with an editor and an agent. But as Stephen King says, the actual writing itself is a lonely journey. He described it to be "like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub."
Really, for a lot of the process, it's just me a the blank screen or blank sheet of paper. The collaboration comes later, which is so frustrating as an extrovert. I like running to the living room and jumping on the couch next to my husband who is usually doing homework or playing video games. I show him that I wrote a paragraph or page (or even just a really cool image or simile), and I want to collaborate with him, tell him what a cool idea I had, and how I'm thinking about doing this other cool idea...what do you think?...oh! That's a great idea, too...maybe I can do that...but I really want to end up with this idea...so I think I'll go ahead and go with it and see where it goes...
After a bit of chat, I sprint back to the computer room, write for a little and then run back to collaborate some more. This is probably very exhaustive to my introvert husband (even though he says I'm adorable each time I do it). It also slows down the process, which is why I think I probably should stop it.
Once again to use Stephen King, I really need to just "shut the door," while I write. These quick chats with my husband, though stimulating and invigorating, slows the process of completing my projects. At this rate, I'm never going to finish a book. I'm barely able to squeak out poems, and I've only really written one successful short story from start to finish.
Read Part 2
After asking directions from the librarian, I turned the corner and saw a large wooden door to the left. I opened it and walked into a conference-looking room, which surprised me because I didn't realize the library had such rooms. A woman in the far corner fussed with a standing camera, and several people sat scattered throughout the rectangular room, some on their phones, others sitting quietly with pads of paper on their desks in front of them. No one talked.
I had to make a decision. Would I sit where the camera could see me or sit in the back? I decided to get the most out of the workshop and chose a seat near the front. That is, until I recognize a retired ESL teaching colleague of mine a couple rows back. I hadn't seen her for over a year! I quickly moved to sit by her and chatted quietly. I told her about my drumming, writing and everything else.
In conjunction with the Writer in Residence program I told you about, my local library is offering free writing workshops to the community. The first one this month was called, "More than 5 senses: How to write Great Description," taught by Tom Leveen.
Smelling Darth Vader
My friend and I stopped our conversation mid-sentence because a man in a baseball cap, t-shirt and jeans in the front of the room announced loudly and rapidly that it was time to start the workshop. He paced in front of the room, holding a water bottle and introduced himself as Tom Leveen. He said he was going to go through some guidelines (not rules!) for writing captivating description and encouraged us to take notes.
Tom started by asking us what Darth Vader smelled like. People shouted out things like "oil, metal, burned toast," and other things. He told us that he asked a similar question to some middle schoolers not long ago. He asked them what the joker (from Batman) smelled like. Kids said, "blood, fire," and other such things. Then, he said, he saw one girl in the middle of the room thinking very hard about the question. She said confidently, "vanilla and lavender."
Tom said he was taken back and thought, she really doesn't understand what I'm asking here! Instead of calling her stupid, which is what he wanted to do, he said something like, "Oh! That's an interesting perspective. Why do you say that?"
"Because," the girl said, "that's the last thing you'd expect." Tom was floored. Bam. She got it.
As writers, we naturally go for sight when describing a scene. It's the simplest in a lot of ways. How often do I write about smell, touch, taste, and sound?
Tom encouraged us to add at least one non-visual description per page, which I plan to take to heart. Smell, I believe, is particularly powerful. My creative writing teacher Josh says that smell links us to our memories. When I smell pine sol, for example, I remember my mom growing up. She likes having a very clean kitchen.
We have more than 5 senses
Tom Leveen says there's more than just 5 senses. Think about these:
1. Temperature (This is not touch!)
2. Pain (Not the feeling you get when you touch your hot car, but feeling pain in your appendix.)
3. Equolibrio (Sense of balance)
4. Pro-peroseption (relation of body to itself)
He went through these super fast, as with everything else, but I managed to jot them down so I can reflect and test them out.
As promised, he gave us 8 guidelines (not rules!) for writing fiction successfully. I'm not going to include them here because my notes are kind of a mess and it would take me forever to type it all out, but I will tell you that it felt like a crash-course for writing fiction, and it was awesome!
Q and A
After our crash-course in description writing, he opened the floor for questions. A couple people asked about publishing, finding an agent, that kind of thing. One person asked about how to write the Point of View (POV) of a teen or young adult to which he talked about syntax and paragraph sizes.
One woman sitting on the back row asked about scoring interviews for research. Tom gave his go-to answer which is social media. He told her to ask on Facebook. If that doesn't work, there's always absoluewrite.com, or poisonpen.com. Out of curiosity, he asked who she was hoping to talk to. She said a coroner. A man on the far left near the camera raised his hand. He was holding a business card. "I'm retired," he said. "But I used to work as a coroner." Everyone cheered as the woman stood and took the business card.
I asked Tom about the writing process. As you may already know, I'm super interested in it right now. I'm desperately searching for my style to writing longer prose. He told me that I don't have writer's block. No one gets writer's block. It's not a thing. He said, "you have project-block." I told him what Bill Konigsberg told me about writing chapter 1 the first day, revising chapter 1 and writing chapter 2 the next day... etc.
"It's not working for me," I said.
"It sounds awful," he said. "I don't write linear like that." Then he said, "Don't be afraid to waste words. That's what they're there for." I think Josh said something like that before. Or maybe it was Anne Lemott. I can't remember. "Jump in anywhere!" he told me. "Maybe you want to write a fight scene today, which isn't going to show up until later in the book. Go for it! Put two characters from different stories in one room and see what happens. Trust your style!" He encouraged me to make an outline. Once the book is finished, I can go through the hero's journey and add in elements that might be missing.
So, that was the workshop. I encourage you to look to your community and see what's going on. Maybe our library is just awesome, but I bet there's things going on near you. Even though writing "is like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub," (to quote Steven King) there are opportunities for writers to get together and talk about the craft. Who knows? You might meet a retired coroner.
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If you use bloglovin', please follow me. I'll try to follow you back! Have a great day!
My local library has a Writer in Residence program, which means that they periodically invite published authors to hold office hours to help aspiring authors. Right now, it's Bill Kongisberg. Last week, on my way to find poetry on the second floor, I saw him sitting in a large conference room alone. I remembered reading that he was the Writer in Residence on the library website, so I popped my head in and said hi!
Just saying "hi!"
Sweaty from riding my bike to the library, I didn't want to stay long. I literally planned on poking my head in and saying hi, but Bill was super nice and invited me to sit and chat with him. I told him that I attended his reading back in November. He asked me what I do, and I told him that I'm a creative writing student and ESL teacher, and that I have written "some stuff." He asked me what kind of stuff, so I admitted that I mostly had poems (due to the fact that recently finished a poetry class), but I wanted to write more fiction. That's when he invited me to come back. We made an appointment for the following Wednesday.
The day of the appointment, I prepared a short list of questions and decided on 3 poems I wanted him to read, and then headed to the library. My loud flip-flops and I entered the conference room at approximately 2:00pm. It's a good thing I was right on time because he said he had someone else coming in at 2:30pm, so we got right to work...
Q and A
I started with my list of questions. Right now, I'm super interested in the writing process, so most of my questions revolved around that. Steven King writes about how it's a lonely journey, "like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bath tub," but my creative writing teacher says it's mostly collaborative, so I asked Bill what he thought. He said he agreed with both perspectives and said that at times it can feel lonely, but other times there's a lot of in-put from other people, mostly from an agent and close friends.
How long did it take you to write/publish your first book?
Bill says he finished his first draft of Out of Pocket in 2003, and it took him about 6 months to write the first draft; it sold in 2006 and was published in 2009. "So, yeah, it took a while!"
Do you outline your story? Tell me more about that process.
Bill says that there's "plotting" and "pants-ing" (aka "writing on the seat of your pants.") The first is quite structured, where you outline the major events of the story, and the other is open and a sort of discover-as-you-go kind of thing. He says it's good to do a bit of both, but advises letting the characters lead you through the story whenever possible. "Be excited about what you're doing!"
What revision strategies do you use to write your books?
"It's always different," he said, but he usually does it like this:
Day 1- Write Chapter 1
Day 2- Revise Chapter 1; Write Chapter 2
Day 3- Revise Chapter 2; Write Chapter 3.... etc.
Even though there's a bit of revision happening all along, he doesn't consider the first draft done until the book is done.
Who do you ask 1st to read your book?
Bill says he shares the book with his agent first. Before he had an agent, however, he shared with his critique group. "Be very careful who is in your group," Bill cautions. "... if you're sensitive like me, I take criticism seriously and what they say could stop me from finishing the book..." He says he looks for friends who are openminded. Even if they don't like what he's writing, he appreciates it when his test-readers can respect his ideas and ask good questions about the book. For example, "where they get confused," etc.
I asked a follow up question: Do you share one chapter at a time or the whole thing? He says it's usually just the whole book. Bill confides, "I just want to share things my characters say!" But admits that most people just don't really care about that. They want the whole thing.
Discussing my poem
Even though I prepared 3 poems for Bill to look at, we only had time for one. I think, however, many of his suggestions for the one poem will spill over into the other three. Right now I'm working on a packet of poems to submit for publication, and I showed him one that I workshopped in my Intro to Poetry class and am hoping to include in my submissions.
The power of specificity
We talked extensively about the power of being specific. He pointed out some moments in my poem where I was specific. These were the moments where he became interested in my ideas. He referred me to his recent blog post about using specificity in our writing. I agree that there is power in using the good, descriptive nouns.
Show verses Tell
On a related topic, we talked a bit about the struggle we face as writers when deciding on the best words. As writers, we both know that it's better to show, than tell. I wouldn't say, for example, "my dad is humble." Rather, I'd show him being humble, right? We get that. Humility is the feeling Bill got with one of my specific images in my poem, and that's what I was intending. So success, right? Sure! But it gets complicated unpacking feelings in images.
For example, Bill asked me what I meant when I wrote that the dad in the poem "drinks a 44 oz coke." It's a good specific moment, but he wondered what that image is supposed to tell readers about the character in my poem. I didn't have an answer right away, mostly because it was so long ago when I wrote that specific image. I couldn't remember what abstract feeling (love, humility, hate, jealousy...) I was attempting to show.
This led us into a discussion about whether or not every image in a piece of work should have an abstract feeling associated with it and whether or not as a writer I'm responsible for the feelings readers interpret from the images I write. Bill says that we can't control the emotions of our readers (and we wouldn't want to anyway!). It's better to "allow the imagination" to do it's thing, and not force-feed abstracts to our readers (aka: telling).
I ended up asking him, in general, what his reaction was to reading particular images in my poem, and that proved to be helpful. His reaction was mostly in-sync with my purpose in writing. We pin-pointed a couple spots where I could improve the writing further, and wrapped up our session together.
I had an excellent meeting with Bill Kongisberg, and I want to publicly thank him for taking the time to inspire me and discuss the craft of writing on a hot Wednesday afternoon.
Post originally published 6/4/15
Actually, I hate horror. I hate gore. But Stephen King is my best friend. He really is. At least, it feels like it now that I finally read his book, On Writing. The first half is a memoir. He basically says (and I'm paraphrasing), "Look, I don't know how people become famous authors. I just know my story." He goes through and talks about his life, where and how he first started writing, etc.
The second half is solid advice on writing. He knows what he's talking about! And he makes it interesting!
Here are 5 things I've learned about writing from my new best friend, Stephen King:
1. To be a successful writer, you HAVE TO read a lot!
Here's a quote: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer's life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows..."
2. Every story starts with a "what-if" question.
"What if vampires invaded a small England village? ('Salem's Lot)
What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
What if a cleaning woman suspected of a murder she got away with (her husband) fell under suspicion for murder she did not commit (her employer)? (Dolores Cliborne)
What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cajon)
These were all situations which occurred to me while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk-- and which I eventually turned into books."
3. Avoid adverbs. (These are the words that modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs and usually end in _ly.)
"I believe," Stephen King says, "the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day... fifty the day after... and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely and profligately covered with dandelions..."
4. For the first draft, write with the "door shut."
"With the door shut, downloading what's in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub...The great thing about writing with the door shut is that you find yourself forced to concentrate on story to the exclusion of practically everything else. No one can ask you 'What were you trying to express with Garfield's dying words?' or 'What's the significance of the green dress?' You may not have been trying to express anything with Garfield's dying words, and Maura could be wearing green only because that's what you saw when she came into sight in your mind's eye... you are less apt to slack off or to start concentrating on the wrong thing... being wonderful, for instance, instead of telling the goddam story."
5. Write for the "Ideal Reader."
"Do all opinions weigh the same? Not for me. In the end I listen most closely to Tabby (Stephen King's wife) because she's the one I writer for, the one I want to wow. If you're writing primary for one person besides yourself, I'd advise you to pay very close attention to that person's opinion... And if what you hear makes sense, then make the changes. You can't let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter most. And you should...."
Yep. Stephen King is my newest best friend.
I'm only sorry that On Writing is the first and only book I've read of his. But, it's exactly what I needed right now to get my butt in gear. Publishing fiction has been my life long dream. I have the tools. I have the advice. Now it's time to get to work. My door is shut for now, but I'll let you know when I've got something, and you can bet that my best friend will be proud of me, for I won't be using adverbs, and I'll be thinking and focusing on story not theme and writing for that Ideal Reader.
I don't want to sound like Reading Rainbow or anything, but if you're a writer (or hope to be), On Writing by Stephen King is the book for you, and you can make the master of horror your best friend, too.
Post first published November 2013
Blogging can be a chore. I forgot that. Deciding on a domain, finding the right layout, thinking of the right themes, deciding on audience, and actually making the time to sit down and write something. Yeah, a chore. So why do we do it? I can't speak for other bloggers. But I'll tell you why I want to blog again.
1. I'm a writer, and writers need readers
I started scribbling words on paper as soon as I could hold a crayon or pen. I'd write stories. Funny, sad, charming, or sometimes serious.
After I'd written something, I'd bully my friends in the neighborhood into listening to what I wrote. My parents and sisters were good audience members, too. I always found joy in having someone read what I wrote. Sometimes I got unwanted criticism, but I still enjoyed sharing. When I got to college, I kept writing. This time, not only fiction, but also academic essays. I got good at it. In fact, I became a writing tutor. I still tutor. I teach writing as a profession, too. I teach my students the importance of audience. I tell them, "writers need readers. Period. We grow and learn as we share our work."
For me, blogging is a spiffy way to find readers outside the circle of 5 friends I usually share my writing with. The more readers a writer has, the happier the writer is, I think.
2. Practice makes perfect.
It feels good to know you're good at something, yeah? Well, I'm a good writer. But I could be better. And the way to get better at something is to practice. Blogging gives me that chance to write. I used to blog consistently, every week in fact. It was amazing to see how much I improved.
3. It's my dream to publish.
Like many writers, I've read books that have impacted me powerfully. I read Anne of Green Gables, the Narnia Chronicles, The Lord of the Rings, all of Roald Dahl books and much more growing up. I was blessed to have parents who read to me, and then I started reading everything I could get my hands on at the library.
These books made me think differently about topics or sometimes even changed the way I wanted to live my life. Such power. Who wouldn't want that? An example of this was when I read The Outsiders in Junior High. I learned that dangers of cliques and the power of true friendship.
I want to publish because it's permanent. Even after I die, those words will be there, and it can impact people even after I'm gone, make them think differently or want to live their lives differently. It's like leaving a piece of me for generations to come, my little contribution to society. It's a way to be remembered. A way to claim, "yes! I was here! I had ideas! I had stories to tell! I was awesome!"
It's been a while since I've blogged. Probably about a year or more. I've shifted blog domains so many times, it's ridiculous. I'm reading up on ways to improve my blog. I'm setting goals to blog more regularly. Good steps in the right direction, yeah?