I'm taking Introduction to Fiction this semester, and my instructor gave us an interesting writing exercise to do. At first, I was hesitant to try it out, but I think it's now one of my favorite writing exercises ever!
Here are the instructions:
This writing prompt is to force you into thinking about and incorporating dialogue into your stories. First, read the small essay...about dialogue. [Attached below.] It should help significantly. Second, read "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemmingway.
After reading the story, I want you to work on your own scene/story that is dialogue focused. You must put two characters into a setting and force them into communication. I want to see at least 20 lines of dialogue. Make sure you are following the crafting tips presented in the essay "On Dialogue."...This exercise should not be a full story, but only a scene of character exploration through dialogue...
It was easy to decide which two characters I wanted to use, but I wasn't sure about what situation would force them to talk to each other, so I asked Hubby for a suggestion.
"Seven minutes in heaven," he said.
"You mean, put them in a closet?" I asked.
I carried my laptop over to him and sat next to him on the couch. "But it says here at the bottom of the instructions: Allow the actions of the characters and the setting of their locale to help tell the story. That means I need to describe a closet."
Unexpected World Building
Using a closet was unexpectedly made me learn more about the world these characters live in. The stuff in the closet told me about the weather outside (flip flops, umbrellas versus skis and snow boots) and learn more about the person's home they were in. Yeah, I learned about a character that wasn't even part of the dialogue just by looking at what kind of stuff was in his closet. I didn't expect that! This made me think about what would be in my other character's closet. hmmm...
Long story short, Hubby and I went to LA a couple weeks ago as a last-minute-hurrah before school started back up. We went to Universal Studios, drank butter beer, rode the Jurassic Park ride (my first time! Hubby got soaked!), and just played around the park and had a lot of fun!
But... I also did some research for my book. Our hotel was two blocks from the LA Metro which takes you to not only Universal Studios, but also Chinatown, which is where a large part of my WIP takes place. Hubby was such a good sport, walking in humid 90 degree weather, letting me brainstorm and bounce ideas for my book with him. He even walked all the way to the Chinatown Branch Library (which is where the MC's dad works) with me, took pictures and did silly things like feel the walls of buildings, smelling the air and observing people around us.
I didn't have a lot of time (only one afternoon), but I did the best I could. I'm so glad I was prepared this time (I was in Chinatown in January this year, but didn't have a clue what I wanted to look at), which brings me to my short list of on-location research tips. Some of these came from my awesome Scribophile group!
This blog post is more for me than anymore else right now. I just want to record some of my thoughts about being on-location, what I've learned and store some pictures that I took while I was there. I'm glad I did the following:
This year I did a couple different things. 1) I did the #MGSummer reading bingo, which you can see in the photo above that I finally got my bingo! 2) I gave myself a summer of re-reading. I was having a moment of why-do-I-write just before the summer, so I gave myself permission to kindle that fire for writing by reading some of my favorite books, so in my list below, I've mark the ones I re-read with a *.
I'll admit that I don't have a very diverse list this year. I like reading fantasy, YA and MG. Plus, who can say no to David Tennant reading the How to Train Your Dragon series, which I love! I don't usually listen to audiobooks, by the way. I don't have anything against them; I just don't have opportunities to listen to them like most people. My commute to work is actually really short; however, Hubby and I took a drive to California just at the end of the summer, so that's when we listened to the audiobooks together. He listens to a lot of audiobooks because he does travel a lot for work.
Without further ado, here is my Summer 2018 list of books (starting with most recently completed):
It's been a while since I've been able to attend a writer's in residence workshop at the library. Last time I attended one was almost a year ago with Marylee MacDonald! I've been doing a lot of teaching and grading so I haven't been able to attend any.
But last Saturday, I made it a priority to attend Sharon Skinner's workshop about Point of View (POV) and perspective.
There were three of us attending the workshop (a fourth came in late). Maybe because it was a Saturday? Maybe because it was a two-hour workshop? I'm not sure. But it was nice and personal!
Sharon asked me what "I write." Like I'm an author already. ha ha! I was flattered and told her that I'm currently working on a MG Fantasy book. (I suppose I could have been cheeky and said that I write lesson plans or I write blogs.) One of the other attendees was writing a YA Fantasy. I like it when a presenter takes the time to get to know us and what we're working on!
Once we got acquainted, Sharon talked a bit about the writing process. She said that writing processes vary like shirts. They come in all sizes, colors and styles. You may find a shirt that you really love, but it doesn't fit (or work) later in life, so writing processes can even vary from project to project. She then told us that she was going to talk about her processes and things that she's learned. "If it fits, keep it. But it doesn't, put it back." I loved this analogy!
Write from the heart
She encouraged us to "Know your Why," referring to Simon Sinek's Ted Talk, "How great leaders inspire action."
Why do you write?, she asked us. What's your motivation? She told us that she has a friend who doesn't write anything unless his agent tells him that it will sell. This ensures that he will be a success, he says.
But Sharon Skinner says she writes what's in her heart. She writes because she has characters inside her that have stories they want to tell, and she wants them to be heard.
When asked about exceptions to the rules, particularly in POV and perspectives, Sharon Skinner said, "Look. There's always room in the market for awesome!" As long as you do it well--- and with purpose--- the market will make room for it.
Hook 'em and book 'em!
As we dived into the topic of the workshop, Sharon told us that she's the kind of writer that wants to "hook 'em and book 'em!" A reader of hers told her that she read a chapter of her book before work. Before she knew it, she was sitting on the couch, still reading, and late for work. Parents blame her for their kids reading under the covers with a flashlight. (Wouldn't that be the dream?!)
One of the best ways, Sharon Skinner says, to hook 'em and book 'em is by having a consistent and well written POV. We need to consider:
Point of View (POV) versus Perspective
Sharon Skinner says these two terms are often interchanged or seen as the same thing, but she likes to define point of view as third person, second person, or first person, and perspective as the eyes we see the story. You could, for example, have third-person limited from different perspectives, even though they're the same POV.
This was nothing, necessarily, new for me, but I liked how she shared real examples from a pile of books she brought with her. Then, she put us to work.
The 'work' in workshop
After going through the various types of POV and perspectives, looking at examples (some classics, some just off the shelf of the library), Sharon Skinner put us to work. She had us write a scene with conflict between two characters. We wrote it in first person from one of the characters. We wrote for five minutes.
Then we wrote the same scene in first person from the other character. Great, I thought. That was really cool. That was good work. I learned some stuff about my two characters that I didn't know, just by being in their head for the same scene.
We weren't done.
Sharon Skinner had us write the same scene in the third-person omniscient and limited (for both characters), from the perspective of an onlooker (or someone outside the conflict) and in second-person (that was the weirdest!). We wrote that same scene over and over and over...
I defiantly got a good writer's workout! I can't wait for more writing workshops and learning from Sharon Skinner!
I love attending author readings. I didn't start going until my adult life, though. I was required to attend a poetry reading for my poetry class a year or so ago, but then I started attending them whenever I could because they were fun! They give me a "vision" of what it might be like when I (someday) become a debut author. Also, there's often Q & A at the end, and I've learned a lot about the writing and publishing process just from hearing those answers and sometimes asking my own questions.
Then, while drafting, she refers to these notebooks that (hopefully) have answers to her questions while she's drafting. If they don't, then she will give herself a note in the draft to look it up later. Later, she'll dive into the researching rabbit hole and record her answers.
But, as she admitted, she's still refining her process and it's difficult to keep organized.
Walking among giants
Attending this event felt a little different than others. I felt the difference when I first walked in. I showed up, and everyone was hugging and talking and taking pictures. Maybe I had never been this early before, though, so I didn't think much of it.
After Amy Loveblood's reading, I stood in line to get my book signed. The bookstore host went around and wrote our names on post-its so we could have them personalized if we wanted. The gal behind me didn't have to tell her name to the bookstore clerk, though. "Oh, it was funny talking to your publisher," the clerk said as she wrote her name. "She wanted to know if I could book you in for a reading, but I had you scheduled months ago. I saw you had a book coming out, so I just put you in." They hugged and laughed. Wow, I thought. What would that be like?...
Before I could really imagine having that kind of relationship with one of my all time favorite bookstores, I overheard the clerk talk to the next person in line. She asked for her name, wrote it down, and then looked at her. "You colored your hair," she said. "When's your next book coming out?" Wow, I thought again. I'm walking among giants here. These people are living my dream. I was sandwiched between published authors. Wow! Wow! Wow! I almost expected someone to ask me when my book was coming out and blushed as I thought about my unfinished discovery draft at home. Thankfully, no one asked me.
When it was my turn to get my book signed, I handed her the book and Amy Loveblood looked at my name, then at me. She asked if my last name was Lamoreaux. She said it wrong, but that's not her fault. It's Hubby's fault for having a complicated French name. ha ha! She remembered meeting me on Twitter, probably from the #MTMC thing. I told her, yes and something else I don't remember, which made me blush, but smiley at the same time. I quickly got out of line and hid behind a piece of cake... still smiling and thinking, this is awesome!...
As I was driving home, I practically giggled out loud. I had had such a good time at the reading. I learned about the writing and researching process, I got to hear the author read a part of her book (that I can't wait to start reading!), I was among other published authors, and I got cake.
I envisioned myself holding a copy of my work-in-progress, all shiny and published. People waited in line to have me sign their copy, and I saw myself answering questions, talking about my passion for writing and then reading out loud a bit of my book at Changing Hands Bookstore.
When I got home, I pulled my keys out of the ignition and I remembered, Oh, yeah. My book isn't finished. I still haven't completed the discovery draft I started a year ago! I haven't revised, edited or had beta readers. I haven't even gotten close to querying. As I walked into our apartment, I felt like I picked up a bag of rocks. The weight of my goal suddenly felt heavy.
I told Hubby about the experience, shared some cake and laughed about Amy Loveblood knowing me from the Internet and saying our last name funny. After a while, I sat on the couch and opened my copy of Nothing But Sky and show him my personalized message. I realized, then, that I hadn't even looked at it myself!
"Dream big," she told me. I giggled and grabbed my laptop and started working on my WIP.
It hurts, you know?
It's natural for me to get defensive about my work, which I did last summer with this author who was just trying to help. I didn't yell or anything. But I didn't take her advice very well. Hubby actually had a lot more names for him/her, oddly enough. ha ha! But I ended up dumping the project (for the second time) and starting something new, which was okay, I guess.
More recently, a few weeks ago, I met with another trustworthy reviewer that gave me hard criticism about my writing, and guess what? I took notes. I nodded. I said thank you, and then I quietly cried in the bathroom before I drove home. It hurts. You know? I put so much into this new project, this new draft, and all I she told me was what was NOT working in my writing.
Teaching peer review hasn't helped
I think part of my problem is that I teach how to give appropriate feedback to writing... as an ESL teacher... and as a tutoring center coordinator. I'm a HUGE believer in the writing process. I believe that writing has the right to grow and adapt as you brainstorm throughout the drafting process.
I didn't have a completed discovery draft in either of the cases I shared above. They called it a first draft, but Bill Konigsberg told me a couple years ago that even if you rewrite the first chapter over and over, you don't have a first draft until you have a draft for every chapter in the book. And Marylee MacDonald told me that discovery drafts are those drafts before you get to the end of the book, and they're essential to the process because it's how your characters tell you the story for the first time.
I'm also a believer in pacing feedback. When I give suggestions for improvement to my ESL students (or anyone I tutor), I recognize their goals (assignment deadlines, usually) and decide appropriate suggestions that they can work on now without making them feel overwhelmed.
I sometimes forget that that's not the way it works in the creative writing world, although I think it should. The reviewer I worked with a couple weeks ago treated my discovery draft like a completed manuscript that needed editing, even though I tried to explain my expectations of our session. I wanted to brainstorm, to talk about plot and possible solutions for problems that my characters were facing. (She told me to fix my syntax.)
Tell me what works!
I'm not far into my creative writing certificate, but so far-- I've been taught that it is just as important to show the writer what is working well in the story as well as what might help it improve.
One of my instructors shared this super helpful link with us before we started reviewing each other's work. I use this as a guideline, and I wish all peer reviewers worked like this.
Getting used to "no"
Last summer, when I got slapped in the face, Hubby said, "well, consider this your first rejection letter." I know that it wasn't exactly true, but he was reminding me of Stephen King. He said that he had an entire wall full of rejection letters. It's part of the publishing world, and I don't think things have changed that much since he first started querying.
This last weekend, I attended the WriteOnCon, and for one of the keynotes, they talked about the importance of no. It's part of the writer's life. I probably won't do it justice, but the speaker was basically saying that we get rejection letters before we get an agent or contract. We get poor reviews. Heck, she said that she had a book signing, and only two people bought her book. Rejection, unfortunately, is part of the writer's life. You can't make everyone happy, you know?
Why do we write?
So, if we get slapped in the face and get rejected, why do we do it? I can't speak for everyone, but I don't give up because I love reading. And because it's fun. I like playing with words. I love creating. I love that moment where I'm able to convey some awesome image or feeling to another reader. I believe I have a story to tell, and I'm the only one who can tell it the way I can.
So, I'm in a researching mood.
I don't know what's right or wrong (or if there's a right or wrong in writing a book) but I have a hard time doing all my research for a project all up front. I suspect you're supposed to do all your researching before you start writing a story or book. But I always think of questions as I'm writing or discover characters that need backstories, etc. So... for me, researching is an ongoing thing. I have tons of pictures on Pintrest and screenshots of googlemaps, etc. I've watched lengthy documentaries on king cobra snakes and King Arthur, anything that helps me with my writing, right? I may or may not use the research I collect, but it's there, just in case. Like backstory and exposition. I only use it if it becomes necessary.
NaNoWriMo taught me to not let research get in the way of drafting. It can defiantly lead you down a rabbit hole, and then it's hard to get back into writing the story. Despite this advice, though, I still find myself googling random facts sometimes. (That's okay, right?) And I find myself taking breaks from drafting to do a bit of researching. Sometimes it it helps me with writer's block. Give me ideas.
Well, I'm really excited about researching right now because the trip Hubby and I have planned for next month will be really close to where the bulk of my story takes place! It wasn't hard to talk him into visiting the streets where my characters walk and talk. He's invested in my story, enough. Plus, I promise to take him to a good restaurant afterwards.
The guy I called was super cheerful, especially after I told him we had reservations with their hotel already, and he helped answer some questions I had about our trip. He even shared his opinion, as a local of the area.
After I got off the phone, I decided to do a bit of writing. I'm at 29,000 words of my current discovery draft. I'm trying to finish it before New Year's. (Wish me luck!) Anyway, I had a question about one of my character's occupation. The dad in my story is a librarian, and I wondered about the responsibilities of a librarian and if their schedules vary from day to day. I thought about going to my local library (which I probably will do) and ask for an interview. Tom Leveen taught me once that you should never be ashamed to tell someone you're writing a book, especially if it helps you score an interview for research.
But I had had such a good experience calling the hotel we were staying at that I looked up the library that my character probably works at and asked if the librarian would let me ask her some questions about her job in order to help me with my story. I think I asked it badly because she transferred me to the reference desk. ha ha! Maybe she thought I needed a reference guide for writing a book or something. It worked out, though, because this second librarian worked in the children's section of the library, so I could ask a lot more questions to her than I could have to a different librarian. You see, my character is in charge of "Toddler Time," or story time for kids, which this librarian did.
I won't bore you with the details of conducting my first phone call interview as a writer, but I will tell you that you should do it! I had a list of general questions I wanted to ask. I had skimmed their website and calendar page, but she referenced me to BLS.gov/ooh to learn about librarian pay in the United States and pointed me to their website for more information. So, if I were you, I'd plan to find your own answers on the website before asking them.
Nevertheless, the librarian I talked to, Rita, was super nice. And she gave me insight to her library that I don't think I would have gotten at my local library. Plus--- at the end of our conversation, she said that when (not if) I get published, that I should let her know, and she'd be happy to help promote it. Wow! I love that my character is a librarian!
I'm currently taking an online creative writing class at the community college I work for. It's called "Structuring the Novel." Along with lots of workshopping, we've completed a few writing exercises. This last week, we watch the short video below.
Anyway, I'm not quite half way through my first draft yet, and I've been struggling with my story structure for a while now. I'm hoping to complete it this month with NaNoWriMo, but as a part-time panster, I've been having a hard time getting words on the page.
I admit right now that I spent far too much time on this assignment. After I plotted the ups and downs that I've already written, and then the ups and downs for what I want to happen, I wrote bullet points, explaining the progression of the story. As I did this, it solidified what I had in my head (and in my messy notebooks). It also helped me come up with some other ideas, too. And then I got more ideas as I shared my chart with my husband. I think the more ways we think about or explain our stories, the more real they become.
I discovered this phenomenon just a couple months ago. Actually, it was during July's CampNaNoWriMo. See, for camp, you get to set your own word count or (new this last year) page count. I had a hard time deciding how many words I wanted to set. They probably shouldn't let you, but during camp, you can change your goal as many times as you want, up to a specific date, which I think is just a couple weeks before the month ends.
If the book is really good, I'll say, "just one more chapter!" and then another until my eyes won't stay open. How many of us do that?! (Look around and see the raised hands around the world.)
So why wouldn't my writing be the same?
Now I sit up at night, writing/ revising my book with this kind of attitude--- just one more chapter, just one more chapter... It's often said differently than when I'm reading because reading is always so much easier than writing. When I'm reading, I'm looking at the clock, justifying that reading one more chapter will be okay before bed, before work, before doing chores. ha ha!
With my writing, I'm pushing myself. One more chapter, one more chapter... I think I can... I think I can..
Today I simply want everyone (anyone) who reads my blog posts to watch Liz Gilbert talk about the elusive creative genius. The video is provided below. Then, if you like it or don't like it, you can read my thoughts about it below. And if you agree or disagree with my thoughts or what Liz Gilbert says, than we can start a conversation, either in this blog thread or on twitter, which is where I do the majority of my social media interactions.
I am a writer
All my life, I've wanted to be a writer. But I couldn't just say, even as a kid, I want to be a writer. I had to come up with other things that I wanted to be: a teacher, an astronaut, a farmer. Like Liz, I had people asking me if I was afraid to be a writer. Could I support myself? What if I don't get published? What if your books aren't successful? Why would you choose to be a starving artist?
As a kid, I wasn't so much, but as I got older and actually started writing and/or learning about the adult world, I got scared. Those questions made more and more sense to me, and I fell into the "what-if" syndrome.
Now that I'm much older and (maybe) a bit more wiser and have an established career as an ESL teacher, as a source of income to sustain me in my writing and pick me up should I fail, am I still afraid? Yes. Of course I am.
Protective Psychological Construct
Liz talks about how her success is probably behind her, and she has had to find a way to help her psychologically trick herself into not giving up--- because she wants to keep doing what she loves doing. For me, my future is ahead of me. I'm still young, but I almost feel like I've waited too long to start in on this life-long dream of becoming a published author. Why wasn't I writing more "shitty" drafts (to use Anne Lemott's words) or why wasn't I taking creative writing classes while I was studying for my MTESOL? The same can be said about my drumming, which I finally got serious about doing a few years ago, and not in high school.
It could be natural for me to stop while I'm ahead. Writing is hard. Being a creative genius (to use Liz's words) is intimidating and daunting. So why do I write?
I love language. I love words. I love stories. I was talking to a friend today, and she said, "Kassie, your love for reading is contagious. It makes me want to read more." She also said she can see my passion for stories, for writing. It's in my blood. It's in my soul. I want to be a writer, as scary as that may be.
My motivations for writing come from my reading, from my past (small) successes in writing. I believe with practice, with grit (another great video), I will get there. Eventually.
Catching the Poem
Can I just say how much I love that part in Liz's talk about catching the poem, like a "barreling train of air." I don't know if I've experienced that in as much degree as she describes, and I haven't ever caught a poem backwards before, but I've had ah-ha moments. I live for those.
More often than not, my process is more like the artist she talks about, who is driving. He needs to tell the inspiration to come back when it's a more opportune moment. I've had those. Most the time when that happens, I beg it to stay until I am able to write it down, and sometimes I can.
Continue to Show-Up: Do your Job!
Liz's passion for showing up to do the job is something I try to do every day. Recently, I've set aside at least two hours of writing a day. With school starting up, it's been tricky to keep to that schedule (like my drum phone calls). And sometimes, even during that one or two hours I'm sitting there, I don't always get the best out of me. And that's okay. At least I'm showing up. At least I'm doing my "job."
This video is somewhat old, but the content, I think is very poignant, so I hope you enjoyed it, too, and we can remember why we write, why we dream, why we do creative things.
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down... and bleed."
"Mongkok Street, Hong Kong"