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!

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.

Getting to Know You: Backstory – How much is too much?

In my Writing Through the Body workshop this week, we talked about backstory a little. Backstory is your character’s history. It’s everything that happened before the story you’re telling.

Knowing your character’s backstory will help you make informed decisions about her or his motivations, intentions, and behaviors in the story you tell.

Shadow box prop from Found Objects the film: "Can't we sit to-geth-er..."

Shadow box prop from Found Objects the film:
“Can’t we sit to-geth-er…”

Before we went into production on my feature film, FOUND OBJECTS, I wrote extensive and detailed backstories on all the characters and sent them to the actors who would play the parts. By the time we started production, they had clearly ingested their respective characters and showed up fully embodying them.

Even though we aren’t acting out our characters in fiction writing in the literal sense, in some ways, we are. We have to be able to slip into their skins to portray them with authenticity, and the best way to do this is by thoroughly knowing their backstories.

This doesn’t mean, though, that the backstory will wind up in your story, though. In fact, oftentimes it’s better NOT to include it.

In the video below, KM Weiland quotes Ernest Hemingway:
“Backstory is the nine-tenths of the story under the water.”

Watch the video to see what else she has to say about backstory.

And Libby Hellman has more to say about her process of creating backstory
for the main character in her novel, Easy Innocence.

 How do you create backstory for your characters?

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.

2014-05-15 19.00.51

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Know when to quit

Know when to quitWhen many writers talk about writing, they focus on getting the machine started and keeping it running—that is, creating the right mindset and environment to allow flow to happen and actually get words on the page or screen.

But what about knowing when to stop?

And I don’t mean stop, as in quit or give up on writing altogether. I mean, how do you know when to stop on any given day?

Comedy writer Ken Levine writes about this subject and tells us how he and other writers know when to stop. And the answer to this question is most definitely the different-strokes-for-different-folks kind.

For me, as I’ve written in the past, achieving flow is not a problem. I have a busy brain that mutates ideas fractal-style, so I’m never at a loss. (Generally, I have too many things to write about or two many ideas for a story in progress. It’s a good “problem” to have, so I’m not complaining.)

Because I have my fingers in a lot of different things right now, I’m not able to write every day, so I’ve blocked out two full days each week – Monday and Thursday. These days are devoted to writing and nothing else. I don’t let anything interfere. I close my browser windows and leave my cell phone in the other room.

But two days isn’t enough writing time for me, so my tendency is to want to just keep going and going and going when I’m finally able to get back with my characters. I love them, and I love the world we’re creating together. But the reality is, for me, that after so many hours, things start to feel stale.

For instance, yesterday I was working on the beginning of the second act of my screenplay, Miranda’s Garden. I’m working from an outline (I can do this with screenplays, but not so much with fiction.), so I always set a milepost for myself at the beginning of every writing day and decide how far down the outline I plan to work.

Yesterday, about two-thirds of the way there, I caught myself writing scenes that did nothing in terms of moving the story forward. I LOVE dialogue, so I can just sit and listen to my characters perform idle chit-chat endlessly, but if I’m going to sell scripts or get them made into films, or if I’m going to write novels that have a reasonable page count that anybody’s going to what to publish, I can’t do that. That said, though, I never feel the time spent writing unusable prose or dialogue is a waste, as it always gets me where I need to go.

So yesterday, when I found myself acting like a person who was just hanging out with her friends rather than a writer telling a story, I stopped long enough to think about what I needed to accomplish to not just move the story forward, but to deepen character development and the relationship between the characters in the scenes I was working on. I did this knowing that on Monday when I sit down to work on it again, I will, more than likely, need to revise that section. I prefer this, though, as it gets my head back in the story and back with the characters. Then I’m off, writing forward until I start to go stale again.

Another way I know it’s time to stop is by listening to my body. If I’ve sat in a chair tapping away at the keyboard long enough that my back, neck and shoulders ache, it’s time to quit. Sometimes, though, I just have to forego the pain a while longer so I can get to the place that feels right. So I can start in the right place the next time.

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How do you know when it’s time to stop writing?