I love books so much that when I watched the new Beauty and the Beast yesterday for the first time, I cried when Belle walked into Beast's library. (Not even kidding!) I was telling my friend who I went with, that it just brought my childhood dreams to life!
Today I want to talk about littering and other acts of kindness. What do I mean by that? Well, keep reading and find out!
I went grocery shopping today. I haven't been in a while, and I think that's true for everyone who lives in my neighborhood. The lines for the checkout were pretty crazy, but instead of getting frustrated, I decided to enjoy the AC (it's starting to get hot already!) and read my book while I stand in line. Yes, I brought a book to the grocery store! Don't you?
Before I pulled it out of my purse, though, a magazine cover caught my attention. It was a picture of Emma Watson, probably my favorite rising actress ever! I was still floating from my Beauty and the Beast experience and decided to read the article while I waited to pay for my groceries.
That's when I noticed the guy standing behind me. All he had was a 6 liter bottle of root beer and a package of strawberries. "Go ahead of me," I told him. I defiantly had more than him, and I wasn't in any particular hurry.
He seemed surprised and hesitated for a moment, like he wanted to say, Wow! Are you sure? He said thank you, though, and moved ahead of me. There were still two other people ahead of us, so I don't know how much of a difference it made, but he seemed to think so.
I started reading the Emma Watson article and didn't notice that the guy who was now in front of me had put one of the dividers on the belt for me so I'd know that it was okay to start unloading my groceries up there with his bottle of soda and strawberries. "Oh," I said. "I didn't notice..."
"I wasn't going to interrupt your reading," he said grinning from ear to ear. I ended up putting the magazine down because I knew it would, soon, be my turn to check out, but I watched this guy in front of me. Maybe he had always been kind, but he seemed to go out of his way to talk to the cashier and bagger, which most people don't do. (I know--- I was a cashier for 3 years before my mission.) I wondered if he was "spreading" the kindness that I had given him.
This is where littering comes in. In the magazine I picked up, I read about Emma Watson and one of the amazing things she's doing right now. She's putting books in subways for people to find and read. (Watch video below).
Spreading a bit of love. Is that what I did at the grocery store? Is that what we do when we write honest stories? I like to think so.
I like to think that's my number one reason for going through the hell that writing sometimes is. I hope that someone somewhere will feel something in one of my poems or (someday) books. They'll learn something about the kindness that exists in this crazy world.
So I will keep reading. I will keep writing. I hope you do the same.
I'm just going to throw this out there--- I have a love/hate relationship with creating characters.
Of course it's fun to come up with a new story and make decisions about who will play a major role in it...
Will my main character be a boy or girl? Will he/she be tall, skinny, large? What mannerisms will set him/her apart? What color hair shall he/she have? What clothes will he/she wear? Where will he/she live? Who are his/her family members? etc.
The more questions I answer about my main characters, the more I feel like I get to know them! They become real to me. I love it!
...At the same time, though, it's exhausting. I have difficulties trying to decide what I want to eat for lunch, let alone what my character's fears will be or what motivates them to do what they do. It's also hard to know where to stop. Does it really matter what his/her favorite color is? Really?
More recently, I've made a couple discoveries that makes me dread character sketches:
1) All my characters need to be believable, not just the one telling the story. For that, I need to do character sketches for all my characters, not just the main 3-5.
2) Books often have more than a handful of characters because in our hugely populated planet, each person interacts with at least 5-10 (or more!) people on a regular basis. So, sure I might have 3 main characters, but each of them know another 10 people (or more) each...
Sketching Characters: Trick #1
There are lots of ways to get to know your characters. In the past, I've done the traditional 10 questions:
But answering these questions only skims the surface of who your character is. It's a start, but that's all it is.
Sketching Characters: Trick #2
Last November, when I did my first NaNoWriMo, someone in the forums or in the webinars (I can't remember where), suggested that I interview my character.
I imagined my character sitting across from me in my living room. I had a pad of paper in my hands and I interviewed her like she was Sandra Bullock or Ann Hathaway. I imagined someone counting down: 3...2...1... action! The camera light turned from red to green, and I got to business. I chatted with my character about her role in the story, her secrets, her fears and her relationships with her siblings, teachers and friends.
After the interview, I read the "transcript" to Hubby, but (bless his heart) he got bored. Character sketches are only interesting to those who write them, I soon learned.
As I'm preparing for CampNaNoWriMo for this April, I'm thinking about all my characters, not just the three I interviewed in November. I think for the major-minor characters (if that even makes sense) I'll do an interview, but in addition to that, I have another trick for getting to know your characters.
Sketching Characters: Trick #3
I'm taking an online creative writing class right now, and I learned this trick from my teacher:
Write a letter from your main character to you, as if you are pen pals.
I did this for my main character. Her letter helped me think of new scenes for my book, which is always nice! Plus, it made it feel like my character and I are more than just interviewer and interviewee. It's a relationship. She's aware of me as much as I am of her. I'm planning to write a letter back, asking more questions about her situation, etc.
But I'm, hopefully, going to start writing letters to and from my other characters.
It's time consuming to create so many characters. I groaned the last time one popped into my book because I had to go through the 10-question list. But with the interview and pen pal letters, at least it's a fun experience. It's also effective because I have to instantly "hear" the character's voice. For me, it's been the most effective and enjoyable part of character sketching.
Sketching Characters: Bonus Trick!
Lastly, the thing that I felt silly doing, but my creative writing teacher strongly encouraged of us was to find pictures in magazines or on the Internet that could represent our character(s). I felt a little silly looking for someone who looks like the person I created in my head, but it took hardly any time at all on Pinterest and Google to find a picture that looked like my main character. I found her siblings, too.
There's a part of me that wants to reach out to these random people on the Internet and let them know that they, basically, look like the characters I drew in my mind. I'm not sure if they'd be honored or just find it creepy, though...
The point of this bonus trick, though, is that it gives me a visual of the character. Sure, I "see" her in my mind every time I sit down to write, but it's good to have a photo of her as well. It makes the experience a little more "real" for me.
Current Writing Goals
My goal this Spring Break (and the rest of March) is to correspond like pen pals with each of the characters that I know are in my story. I think that will help me most prepare for CampNaNoWriMo.
My CampNaNoWriMo goal, by the way, is 25,000 words. I got 31,741 words last November. I only need about another 20,000 to get to 50,000, but I'd rather have more words than not enough--- so I think 25,000 will be good. I'm going to continue working on my previous project that I had in November. It's my first time at camp. I'm looking forward to it!
Over Thanksgiving and Christmas, I read all 5 of the Percy Jackson books:
I didn't know that I'd like them so much, but I do! So much that I put my copies of them (which I got for Christmas) next to my Harry Potter series. Why I waited so long to read them? I don't know. After I finished, I said to Hubby, "You'll like them!" And then I got an idea. The next time I was at the library, I picked up the audio book for #1 and brought it home with me.
Hubby sometimes does a lot of traveling for work. He listens to the same audio book series that he's had for forever. It's good, I guess. I listened to them on our way to California for our honeymoon. But it's the same thing. And, these books are so much more fun!
I told him my idea, and he agreed to try the first book. A week later, he asked about the 2nd book. "Can we get the audio book for that?" We got him a library card. He hadn't been in the building since he was in elementary school, which boggled my mind!
Before I knew it, he had gone through the entire series, too. It was great because we instantly had inside jokes. We talked about the characters, our favorite moments...! So much fun!
Then it was Hubby's turn. He asked if I knew that there was another series with some of the same characters: The Hero's of Olympus:
We took a trip to the library together. He got the audio book of the 1st book, and I got the hardback copy of it. I tutor, so it makes more sense to have the book, which I can read when I'm not with a student. Later that week, I found Hubby in the office listening to the audio book, and I realized that he was just two chapters behind. I decided to listen in until he caught up. We ended up listening (almost) to the entire book together.
For the 2nd book, Hubby got ahead. He had a long trip for work, and I had a bunch of grading that had to come first before reading. He finished it before me, which drove me crazy because I wanted to know what would happen, but (of course) I didn't want him to tell me. I wanted to read it myself.
I got book 3 first. And I finished before him! Just barely.
Now we're both on book 4. We're listening to it together to start. I'm hoping I get my grading done quickly next week so I can finish before him.
The race is on...
I hope that someday I'll be able to create a book/series that will cause my readers to race and enjoy! I think it was Stephen King who said that reading is a great source of inspiration! I'm inspired.
About a month ago, I opened some very old documents in my computer. They were stashed away in a private folder entitled "Works in Progress." (They'd been works in progress for over a decade.) I opened the folder and could almost smell the dust piled on the documents.
I scanned the titles. Some I recognized instantly, but a few I needed to open and skim the first few pages to remember what they were. I'd either smile and laugh---remembering the inspiration for the piece of writing or the gist of the story ---- or feel so embarrassed that I'd have the urge to look for matches so I could burn the document right there on the spot. Tossing them in the desktop trash would not be satisfactory enough.
For a lot of them, it was like bumping into a friend I hadn't talked to or heard from in years.
There were a set of documents in particular that brought both a smile and a feeling of nausea. It was an actual "book" I wrote when I was 15 years old. I remember tweaking chapters, sentences and plot points and sharing my revisions with my closest and dearest high school friends. I had been convinced that someday I'd publish it. Sadly, this book hadn't been touched in nearly 15 years.
Oh, well, I thought and closed the folder.
But I didn't leave the computer. I stared at the "Works in Progress" folder and thought about this book I wrote so many years ago. I tried to remember why I hadn't worked on it after I initially "finished" it. Something always seemed to take priority over it, I reminisced.
Once I finished high school, for example, I knew I needed to get a "real" job or at least go to college and study literature and writing before I could publish it. Then, I got the "real" job, teaching ESL, and I was bogged down with lesson plans and grading. I never have time for it, I remembered justifying, until the entire book slipped onto an old shelf in my subconscious and I never looked at it.
Yes, that's probably one of the reasons. The real reason, though? The bigger reason? I wanted to grow up. I wanted to move on from the story like I wanted to move on from high school.
Sure, I thought about working on it. I maybe even once or twice actually read bits of it with intent to make it better, but it always brought back high school memories, and teenage angst. I didn't want to relive that. I wanted to move on!
The book is, naturally, YA and fantasy. I never said it out loud, for fear that I would hurt its feelings, but I didn't want to work on the book anymore because I wanted to grow up and write something for real.
So, a month ago, I sat at the computer, sneezing from the dust, and I thought about all of this. Shonna Slayton's words came to me. She had asked me what kind of writing I do. I had said, "well, I want to write adult fiction, but I keep gravitating towards YA."
She had said, "just own it, then." Basically, she said that I should write what I'm writing.
I opened the document and forced myself to read the first chapter. Yes, there were tons of errors, but the plot wasn't half bad. I had a character (3 actually) who had a goal in mind, and there were obstacles blocking them from achieving it. Isn't that, basically, all you need for a story?
I read the first chapter to hubby, and he agreed that it was worth working on. So I resurrected it. And just in time for NaNoWrimo!
I've done some serious make-overs on the characters, changed a bit of the plot, and outlined the first few scenes so I'll be ready to hit the ground running.
No get me wrong! It will still be a lot of work! My 15 year old self did the best she could, but there are a lot of obvious mistakes that I've now learned to correct over the years. What's great about having a resurrected story like this, though, is that I have a lot of the bare bones. I just need to rewrite, rewrite, and build, build, build.
Wish me luck!
Reading is an important part of a writer's life. My experiences with books motivate and influence my life as a writer. Stephen King in On Writing says, "You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you" (pg. 141).
I had an extra long summer this year. I finished teaching at the end of May and didn't go back to work until this week, almost the last week in August. My friend, who also teaches, had half that break, so I consider myself lucky and have, therefore, had a lot of time for drumming, writing and reading. It's been heavenly!
At the end of Stephen King's incredible book about writing, he gives a list of all the books he's read over the "past three or four years," just to show us how diverse his reading is. He's setting an example for us newbies to follow. He says, "Write a lot and read a lot" (pg. 293). That's solid advice, so for my first time, I've compiled a list of all the books I've read this summer. I haven't done too shabby.
Here's the list: (and in the order I completed them)
I'm trying to continue my reading streak as the semester gets going. I'm trying to manage my classes better so that in the late afternoons and quiet evenings I can read like it's summer. Stephen King said: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that" (p. 140).
Happy reading and happy writing!
Hubby and I hold hands and quickly walk through the quiet mall. More than half the shops are closed. The halls are practically empty, and there's no music. I see a noteworthy used bookstore, but we're on our way to a small library in the outskirts of our city boundaries, to which I've never been to, so he doesn't let me browse.
We turn a corner and hubby pulls me toward a wide opening. I take two steps and realize I'm in a library. There's what looks like a desk with a librarian, a few shelves with books, and some computers in the far corner. Before I can ask about the workshop we're there for, I see three women on couches, each with a pen and pad of paper, and Shonna Slayton. I recognize her instantly from the library website. She smiles like we're old friends.
Like reunited friends, she teases me for being a few minutes late and Hubby for being the only male. After introductions--- we each take a turns saying our names and what kind of writing we do--- she poses the question, "Where do you get your ideas?"
After we talk about inspirations for our writing, Shonna sums, "We essentially get them everywhere!"
She says that she jots ideas on slips of paper and puts them in a box. They're oftentimes clips of words from magazines. Then she "mooshes" ideas together. The important thing, she stresses, is that you write them down, even if think your idea is so perfect that you can't possibly forget it!
The Power of Retelling
Plot can be particularly troublesome for writers. (Don't I know it!) One trick (or "hack" as Shonna calls it), is to do a retelling. A lot of stories, believe it or not, are retellings. She uses the example of The Little Princess, which is the story of a girl who goes to boarding school. When her father is presumably killed, she falls from grace (so to speak) and must work as a servant. Is this not a Cinderella of sorts?
Retellings are great because they provide an initial plot, so if you're stuck on plot, the retelling gives you a framework. Also, retellings are insanely popular. Shonna confesses that they're easy to sell. "People like the familiar," she explains.
How to do a Retelling
Retellings are fairly straightforward. You think of a story that you love and then change aspects of it. "Moosh" other bits and viola! a new and interesting story! In our small group, we made a list of elements you can change in a retelling:
After that, we wrote individual "Ugly Duckling" tales, choosing our own genre and twists. Hubby and I wrote about a boy "ugly duckling," living in a futuristic world where everyone claims to be perfect and the same.
All the stories written in the group, though all based on the premise of the ugly duckling, were different from each other. That's the magic of retellings! They can be individualized with a unique, personal flair.
There are a few things I plan to take-away from this workshop. First, when stuck, "moosh." It's okay to mix and remix anything and everything when the storm in your brainstorming sessions are dry or barely a sprinkle.
Second, have fun! Too often, I'm in too serious of a mood when I sit down at the computer to write. Third, when in doubt, just ask. There were a lot of great questions throughout the workshop about editing, publishing and the like. Shonna was honest and approachable. She offered helpful resources, like Storyfix.com and Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Being part of the writer's community, where ever you live is enriching!
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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"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkonk Street, Hong Kong"