This blog has moved!

Hello, WTB followers!

This is to let you know that this blog has a new url and will be transformed into a full website for my Writing Through the Body workshops in the near future.

Please head on over to writingthroughthebody.com to get this week’s writing tip and to stay plugged in for future weekly writing tips, special offers, freebies, and new and exciting info about the unfolding of my Writing Through the Body workshops and courses!

I’ll soon be adding a new opt-in page with a free offering: a checklist.
10 Ways to Banish Writer’s Block

 

Thanks for your loyal following and your continued interest in WTB.

I appreciate it very much!

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Move your character

Creating characters readers will be invested in and resonate with is no easy task. We have to make them step up off the page so readers can take them in with all the senses, experience them as real people. Readers want to know what she looks like, smells like, sounds like, feels like, and in some cases, even what she tastes like. Take her from flat to living and breathing by spending enough time with her. Treat her like someone you care about because before you’re finished with her, you will care about her. Very much.JohnL'HeureuxQuote

To get started, keep a character journal. Devote a page or more to each character.

  • Create a name, gender, and age.
  • Describe what she looks like. Give her a hair color, a body shape. Dress her.
  • Fill her apartment, bedroom, and car with things. But do this selectively. What she wears and what she owns tells us who she is.
  • Make her talk. Is her voice high or deep? Loud or soft? The way she speaks tells us how much power she thinks she has in the world.
  • What does her apartment smell like? Her car? What about her hair?
  • And if you kissed her? Her skin? Her mouth? What would you taste? (In a past post I wrote that we have to fall in love with our characters. Sometimes we also have to make love to them.)
  • Move her. Show us how she walks. Laughs. Picks up a wine glass or a cigarette. How she handles a pencil.

After you have her physicality clear in your mind (and this may come in pieces), get to know her and understand what motivates her to want the things she wants and to make the choices she makes.

  • Why does she go to the same coffee shop every day?
  • What does she do while she’s there and why?
  • What does she want, more than anything and why?
  • What, or who, might interfere with her getting her desire?
  • What’s at stake if she doesn’t get what she wants? How will this affect her life, and what new decision will she make when met with an obstacle?

As writers, to tell our characters’ stories, we have to become one with them. We have to let them under our skin as much as we have to climb under theirs. The more time we spend on knowing them from the inside out, the more we can understand what moves them.

And the more we move our characters, the more we move your readers.

Who’s your favorite character?

Writing can improve your sex life

This week, in my Writing Through the Body workshop, we talked about the second chakra, called the Sacral chakra.

Orange Sphere1This chakra is located in the area of your navel, and is connected to your lower abdomen, low back, large intestine, pelvis, hip area, appendix, bladder, and sexual organs. It’s all about our ability to go with the flow, so while all the chakras are important, you can probably imagine why this one is especially important when it comes to creative flow. Creative flow can mean a lot of things. It can mean artistic flow (writing, composing music, painting), or it can mean actually creating life. This chakra is about self-expression in a very deep sense, and it also aligns with partnership, sexuality, pleasure, and relationships.

In her book Writing in Flow Susan Perry writes about reports she received from writers and how they became sexually aroused when they had experienced a really good writing session. This is no surprise when we consider that this chakra involves creativity, sexuality, and pleasure.

It would stand to reason, then, that if one aspect of our lives in this area is flowing, then the other would, as well. What I’ve observed, though, is that oftentimes, creative people have a difficult time finding that balance between honoring their creative impulses and their relationships, and some people, either consciously or unconsciously, decide they can’t do both and do them well, so they choose to become hermit-like and pursue their art. This is the paradox of the Sacral chakra energy.

Deepak Chopra thinks about the Sacral chakra in this way: He writes, “Creativity is the process of taking the same raw material and creating different Deepak Chopra | wikipedia.comcontexts and relationships between the components. For example, when a composer creates a new piece of music, he is using the same notes in a new relationship with one another other, resulting in the emergence of something that did not exist before.” Considering this, we can see how this can also apply to writing when combining words to create new relationships between them, or with painting when combining colors. It also applies when creating life; when two people combine their DNA, a multitude of possibilities are available.

The Sacral chakra is also about magnetism. When this chakra is open and flow is occurring, magical things can happen. Abundance flows. So this is powerful, powerful energy. The energy of this chakra revolves around creation and procreation. They go hand-in-hand. Creating art. Creating babies. Creating ourselves.

So, write! Get that Sacral chakra flow moving! Get those stories out, and in the process, give your libido a boost. Be careful, though… remember this chakra is about creating. Art. Ourselves. And babies, too.

If you need help priming the pump, I’ve added a couple of sacral chakra video meditations.

The first one is 8min. long and driven by an infectious drum beat.
The second is 2 min. long and is more sedate.

Write What You Know (But Don’t Write Autobiography)

If you’ve taken any writing classes at all, you know that one of the staple rules beginners are taught is “write what you know.” Even as a fresh beginner, I never took this advice literally. I was, after all, interested in writing fiction. I didn’t want to tell you exactly what happened the first time I fell in love or what my divorce was like or give the graphic details of my abuse. I wanted to write stories that would stretch further than my own limited experience of the world. I wanted to strive for something bigger than myself.

It’s hard for those who don’t write to understand this concept: that we writers might write from personal experience, but we’re not writing autobiography.

“Write what you know”charges us with the task of taking the essence of our emotional experiences and rendering them universal. I like the way author, Nathan Englander, puts it:

So, do write what you know, but rather than retell actual events, visit those events that left a lasting impression on you, then dig deeper. Forage your memory for the sensual details—the way the breeze delicately rippled the curtain, how the sun shimmered on the cobalt blue vase, the sharp smell of sulfur in the air that 4th of July when you got the news, or the sound of your mother crying behind a closed door.

And forage your heart for what you felt around those sensual details. Because when we write from emotional experience, that’s when we can begin to write universally about the human condition, and that’s when we give ourselves a fighting chance to touch the person who takes the time to read what we’ve bothered to write.

Find your tool fetish

While non-writers may look sideways at the fetishizing of writing utensils, a writer understands that what looks to be a mere object to others, is an important aspect of our creativity, an extension of us. Our pens, pencils, notebooks, and yellow legal pads are conduits between our muse, ourselves, and our stories. Talismans, even.

For instance, I’ve written in the past about how I use the keyboard for certain stages of writing (mind dumping big thoughts and writing the story) and write by hand for other stages (initial random snippets and editing drafts).

When I’m not at the keyboard, my writing tool of choice: a mechanical pencil.

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I’m not picky about brand or color or even design (although it does need to fit in my hand comfortably – if I’m noticing that I’m holding a pencil, it isn’t right – and I have to admit, I’ve become partial to those with a rubber grip at the base). It has to have a good eraser, too. But mostly, it’s the lead for me that’s the deal breaker.

This is it: .5 / #2

When I write with a .5 #2 mechanical pencil lead, it’s like silk on silk. The feel of the soft graphite sliding across paper is so sensually satisfying it allows me to – maybe even helps me – focus in on the flow of the story, and in the editing process (which is when I use the mechanical pencil), I’m able to see the excess and the holes in what I’ve written, and I just get immersed. It’s trance-like. A surrender, of sorts.

I can edit with a pen, but it isn’t the same. Using a pen keeps me in my brain too much. But with a mechanical pencil, I engage with the words and the paper in a whole different way. The pen gouges. The pencil caresses. It allows the flow from my psyche to go straight down my arm, into the pencil and on to the page without conscious thought. It’s magic.

While I haven’t pondered, to any great length, why writers have these seemingly quirky requirements for their writing materials, I can’t help but think it has something to do with the fact that writing is not just a mental act, but a physical one. Each writer’s special need when it comes to tools must have something to do with the that writer’s physical make-up and response to tactile sensations.

Whatever the reasons for these special requirements, our fascination with knowing the writing quirks of famous writers is clear. In Alison Nastasi’s article on the subject, we learn about the writing fetishes of twenty famous authors, and while most of us wouldn’t dream of using a fountain pen to write a novel these days (unless you’re Neil Gaiman), thanks to technology, we have even more tools are at our disposal. For instance, Sara Juckes describes, other tools at our disposal to enhance our writing lives: things like CTRL-Z, Sticky Notes, and Pinterest, among others.

Some of us would benefit from other, newer tools that aren’t directly attached to the writing process, but that allow us to get the work done, such as Cold Turkey, a program that locks you out of the internet if your willpower is low, as suggested by Robbie Blair in his article that details “9 Modern Tools Every Writer Should Use.”

Discovering our old-school writing tool fetishes, as well as adapting to and utilizing new-school technological inventions that can make our jobs easier, is just one more facet of defining and honoring ourselves as writers.

In addition to my old-school .5 #2 mechanical pencil fetish, I’d say my current new-school fetish is toss up between GoogleDrive (love, love, LOVE that I can write on any device, anywhere, anytime, and not have to remember to email myself the last draft of a piece) and Notes (so handy when I have an idea and no paper, napkin, or envelope to write in the moment.

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What’s your writing tool fetish?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read

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One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read other writers. By reading the work of other writers, we can gain a multitude of benefits.

Reading fiction is like taking a vitamin for your brain, psyche, and soul all at the same time.

Besides creating something in our brain called grounded cognition, literary fiction also increases empathy because it helps us to “understand the emotions of others.” And specifically literary fiction, because it “has more depth,” is better for us than mainstream fiction. It’s like the difference between organic food and fast food for our bodies. The fast food might fill us up, but it won’t give us the same nourishment or have the same lasting beneficial effects as the organic food.

 

While these benefits can be had by anyone who picks up a novel or a short story, for writers, the benefits don’t stop there.

When we read other writers, it causes us to step outside our tried and true habits, go-to word choices, and predictable rhythms. Can you imagine having only one window from which to view the world and never being able to go outside?! Reading other writers affords us the opportunity to look through many windows and expand our view of writing and of the world.

Expanding our vocabularies is also important, as is studying how other writers turn a phrase. And we can reap the benefits by reading fiction both mindfully and unmindfully.

By reading mindfully, I mean that we can choose a particular book with the sole purpose of studying the mechanics of it to find new ways to freshen our own writing, which is not to say we should be moving away from our own voices that took so long to find in the first place, but being aware of how others utilize the language, approach story, and tend to character should be a regular exercise for any writer.

Likewise, reading unmindfully, just reading for pleasure, can also benefit our writing because it wakes up our imagination, works on our subconscious, plants seeds for future use that we aren’t entirely aware of.

And lastly, reading diversely is also important. Life is busy, and our days are full. Finding time to read our favorite authors is hard enough, but it’s also important to read authors who aren’t our favorites. Or authors we’ve never heard of. Especially under-represented authors. Filling our heads with as many voices at possible, letting them hang out together and talk to each other will only add to the rich cacophony of possibilities in our own work.

On my nightstand right now
Mythic Imagination by Joseph Campbell
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

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What are you reading?

 

 

 

 

Fall in love with your characters

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You know what it’s like. You’re chugging along with a story, all’s going as planned, the wheels are turning and placidly moving you and your characters forward so you’re in the flow and the outside world has fallen away and this imaginary world you’ve invented is sparking every one of your senses and you’re not even aware of time and then all of a sudden

| screeching halt |

A character has stopped listening to you. She’s veered off and has yanked you from your creative cocoon with the thin, silver cord that tethers you together. At first, after you’ve regained some sort of cognizance about what’s happened, you let her go. You want to stay open. Magnanimous. But then it starts to become clear. She won’t – or can’t – do what you had in mind.

You might start to feel confused. Frustrated. Angry, even. But if you know anything about interpersonal relationships, you know the best way to scare off another person is to use anger or control to muscle them into doing what you want. And you don’t want to scare away your character. You don’t. Because if you do, she’ll sink deeper into your subconscious, cross her arms, and you’ll be caught in writing purgatory.

Sometimes writing isn’t just about putting words on the page or screen. Sometimes it’s about stopping and having a heart-to-heart with one of your characters. The way you would someone you deeply care about. Someone whose heart you want to know and understand.

We have to be in love with our characters the way we’re in love with our kids, with our best friend, with our partner or spouse. If we can’t love our characters this way, if we can’t know and understand their hearts, we’re not going to be able to tell their stories with the unflinching and honest integrity they deserve. Even if they’re exhibiting behavior we don’t understand to show us their dark and secret wounded selves – and maybe especially then – it’s our responsibility as writers of their stories to make them real, no matter how unreasonable or shameful their actions or motives may be and no matter their role in the story. We are their mouthpieces, the purveyors of their humanity.

This means we have to be able to love even our antagonists. We have to become the interpreters of their soul path in life, even if their behavior is despicable. We have to help our readers see the humanity in our characters because life – especially in fiction – does not happen at opposite ends of a light vs. dark spectrum.

When you take the time to discover the deeper reasons why your character is laughing instead of crying at her mother’s funeral, why she lies or hurts herself and those around her, why she can’t stand up for herself, when you climb inside her skin, sink into her psyche, and enter her heart, you become her, and when you become her, you’ll learn what she’s afraid of. Chances are, whatever you find there might just apply to you, too.

And this is the thing about writing fiction. It makes you vulnerable. And you have to be vulnerable if you want your characters to be vulnerable. Just as in real life with real people. And with that vulnerability comes compassion. And with compassion comes a deeper understanding of people and the human condition.

And with that, you’ll be a better writer.

And a better person, too.

 

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Do you have a character who needs clarity?

What’s her/his name? Who is she/he?