The Sound Of A Memoir | Article

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An interesting and useful article about using song lyrics in your novel. Makes for a very informative read. Enjoy!


Music is great for writing. Pop those headphones in, start up your two-hour Epic Music track or your carefully curated, book-specific playlist, get in your headspace and go go go.

Music is not great for reading. When I edit a manuscript with song lyrics used as epigraphs, or quoted from one character to another, or someone singing along, I have standard cut-and-paste language:

Consider whether these lines are necessary: using song lyrics falls under a specific copyright area that is not subject to fair use, and obtaining permission is tedious and can be difficult and expensive.

The short answer to “What about using some song lyrics in my memoir?” is “You can’t.” To elaborate, songs written after 1923-ish (depending on when you read this blog post) are almost certainly under copyright. The singer or band associated with the song may or may not be the writer(s). Once you google to find the writing credits, you’ll need to track down the publisher through ASCAP or BMI. The publisher does not want to talk to you until you have a publication contract, or specific, written publication plans including where you’ll be selling the book, the cover price, and how many copies you’re printing. Then the publisher bills you.

It can get expensive, Blake Morrison tells the Guardian:

I still have the invoices. For one line of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”: £500. For one line of Oasis’s “Wonderwall”: £535. For one line of “When I’m Sixty-four”: £735. For two lines of “I Shot the Sheriff” (words and music by Bob Marley, though in my head it was the Eric Clapton version): £1,000. Plus several more, of which only George Michael’s “Fastlove” came in under £200. Plus VAT. Total cost: £4,401.75.

But what about “fair use”?

Fair use is the legal principle allowing us to quote lines or paragraphs from books under copyright. Quotations are fair use if the number of words used is a very small proportion of the total words in the original work; if the quote is properly attributed; and if it’s essential to the point you’re making in your own work. Song lyrics have not yet been held to a “fair use” standard. Arguably, even a line of a song is a fairly large proportion compared to say, 200 words from a 90,000-word novel. But poetry can be fairly used and often is. What makes songs different?

Publishers with deep pockets, excellent legal teams, and a strong precedent of defending their copyrights.

Beyond legal battles, it’s worth it to consider what impact the quoted lyrics will really have in your book. Does your reader associate “Janie’s Got A Gun” with that beautiful night you sat in a convertible, watching the ocean roll in below the hills? Or does she remember her school’s anti-violence initiative that used the literal message of the song? Will readers from another generation even know the song you’re quoting? Will they think of it as “Mom’s music” instead of “pulse-pounding jam”? Writers can’t control how readers react, so we might as well use words we can craft ourselves.

In the Brevity Podcast Episode 8, Geeta Kothari and I discussed using quotes within essays and stories. In her experience as an editor for Kenyon Review, lyrics often pull the reader out of the story on the page and into their own associations with the song. JoBeth McDaniel, from the Rush editorial board, mentions in the same episode that even quoting other non-song writing raises legal issues that editors just don’t want to deal with.

Sure, it’s a great feeling when a single lyric conjures up a world of emotion in our heart. But it’s both uncertain and a bit lazy to expect that line to do the same for every reader. Instead, ask yourself what emotional purpose that song serves, and put that feeling in the setting, in the narrative, in the dialogue. Or obliquely quote in a way that makes knowledge of the original song unnecessary:

He banged his head to Sweet Child O’ Mine and I wished hard I could like Guns N Roses. (Titles are OK!)

On the radio, Springsteen was on fire, singing his creepy lyrics about Daddy not being home.

We rolled down the windows and cranked up the stereo–GooGooDolls, The Cure, KLM, all the music everyone was listening to, the bass throbbing in my chest and making me feel like I was part of everyone.

You’ve got something important to say. Don’t lean on a song to say it for you. Use your words. Use your images. Use your experiences. Trust in your power to create your own music in the reader’s head.

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Via: https://brevity.wordpress.com/2018/04/24/the-sound-of-a-memoir/

Six Tips on Writing from John Steinbeck

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The Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) gave us six tips on writing, which were originally set down in a 1962 letter to the actor and writer Robert Wallsten.

Steinbeck counsels:

  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person – a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it – bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, twelve years prior –  in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception” –  Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice:

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that make a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

If you’re bold enough to defy Steinbeck’s anti-advice advice, you can do so with these nine essential books on more and writing. Find more timeless counsel on the craft in the collected wisdom of great writers, then see how Steinbeck used his diary as a tool of discipline and a hedge against self-doubt.

Happy writing!

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Via: https://www.brainpickings.org/john-steinbeck-six-tips-on-writing/

Create Compelling Characters With These 3 Types of Character Arcs

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We all know that crafting believable characters with strong motivations is vital in fiction writing. But how do you ensure that your characters remain compelling throughout the course of your story?

The answer is simple: make sure they all have strong character arcs.

What is a character arc?

A character arc is basically the journey a character undertakes over the course of a story. But this doesn’t mean a physical journey.

We’re talking about an inner journey: one that makes a character grow, learn, change, evolve, or even completely transform as the story unfolds.

Generally, this means that a character begins the story as one person, transforms, grows or changes throughout, and ends the story as a different sort of person. In other words, a round character.

Think of it this way: all good stories revolve around conflict. This usually comes in the form of obstacles, both external and internal, that a character must overcome. In order to overcome the obstacles, the character needs to grow or change in some way. And that’s where the character arc comes in.

Obviously, no two character arcs in fiction are exactly the same. But there are three basic archetypes that the majority of character arcs fall into.

Let’s take a look at those now.

 

The 3 basic types of character arcs

1. Change/transformation arc

The first and perhaps most common arc is one of change and/or complete transformation. It goes hand-in-hand with the hero’s journey – a plot structure found in more books and films than you can count.

This character arc involves a complete change from ‘regular’ person to hero or saviour. Usually reserved for main characters/protagonists, the change/transformation arc usually begins with a plain old ordinary person who’s something of an underdog, or at least seems rather unlikely to be saving the world anytime soon.

However, as the story unfolds, this character undergoes a transformation – usually quite a radical one. Drawing on some inner strength, talent or drive they didn’t know they had, the character ultimately achieves success in what they’ve set out to do – and basically becomes a completely different person in the process.

Well-known examples of this type of character arc include:

  • Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series
  • Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit
  • Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars series
  • Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series

As you may notice, this character arc is perhaps most common in genre fiction such as fantasy or sci-fi. This is largely due to the mythic/epic quality of the ‘hero’s journey’ narrative – the theory of which has its origins in studies of mythology.

Writing a change/transformation arc

Perhaps the most useful concept to keep in mind when writing this type of arc is that of the lie your character believes.

Most, if not all change arcs involve the character in question believing a particular lie or misconception about themselves or the world around them. The character then discovers the truth, and the way they react to this discovery – how they change in the face of it – forms the basis of their character arc.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a single lie or misconception, especially if the character arc stretches across multiple books in a series.

In the Harry Potter series, for example, the initial ‘lie’ that Harry believes is a literal lie told to him by the Dursleys: that he is an ordinary boy whose parents died in a car crash. He soon discovers the truth: that he is actually a wizard, and that he survived an attack from an evil wizard who killed his parents.

This sets off Harry’s character arc – his transformation from ordinary boy to brave, world-saving wizard who defeats Lord Voldemort. However, there are many more ‘lies’ that shape and reinforce his arc throughout the series, such as his perception of Severus Snape and the major reveal about his fate as one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes.

So when writing a change/transformation arc, ask yourself: what lie or lies does my character believe? How will they discover the truth? And how will this discovery lead them to change or be completely transformed as a person?

2. Growth arc

This type of arc is different from the above, in that the character grows, but does not necessarily undergo a complete change or transformation.

By the end of the story, they are still essentially the same person, but they have overcome something within themselves. As a result, they are a better or more rounded person, or simply different in some way.

Growth can also be achieved by the character changing their perspective, learning something new, or having a different role by the end of the story.

Basically, this arc is a little more subtle than the ‘hero’s journey’-style arc; in a growth arc, the character won’t end up being the saviour of the universe, but they will have grown, developed and changed in some way.

Well-known examples of this type of character arc include:

  • Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
  • Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby
  • Jaime Lannister in the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones series
  • Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings series

Just as the change/transformation arc is used most often in sci-fi and fantasy, the growth arc tends to be more common in literary fiction (but, being perhaps the most ‘general’ type of character arc, it’s found across all genres and styles).

Writing a growth arc

Growth arcs work particularly well for secondary characters, especially if your main character is undergoing a complete change/transformation arc. Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings, for example, experiences a growth arc, while the main protagonist Frodo Baggins undergoes more of a transformation.

While Frodo is totally and irrevocably changed by his experience with the One Ring – symbolised by him leaving the Shire to find peace instead in the Undying Lands – Sam is essentially the same hobbit after his journey, albeit a wiser and more weathered one. He returns to life in the Shire, different but not totally transformed.

When writing growth arcs, compare your character at the beginning and end of the story and ask yourself: at their core, are they essentially the same person? Would they be able to return to ‘regular life’, just with a different perspective, worldview or way of doing things?

As long as your character has learned something, changed their perspective, or improved an aspect of themselves throughout the story, they’ve experienced a growth arc – even if, in their heart, they’re the same homely hobbit they’ve always been.

3. Fall arc

While the above two types of character arc are generally positive, this is a negative arc. It involves the decline or ‘fall’ of a character through bad choices they have made, which ultimately doom them (and potentially others).

By the end of this arc, the character has usually either died, become corrupted, or lost their mind (or if they’re lucky, all three). They have likely ruined their own life as well as the lives of others, and have experienced no redemption or salvation – only downfall.

In the most extreme form of the ‘fall’ arc, the character begins the story as a good/happy/successful person, but by the end of the story is completely unrecognisable – basically the polar opposite of the positive change/transformation arc we discussed above.

Well-known examples of this type of character arc include:

  • Walter White in Breaking Bad
  • Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the Star Wars series
  • Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray

This type of arc is seen a lot in classic tragedy, but is also common in modern literature and film.

Writing a fall arc

Author K. M. Weiland posits that there are three sub-types when it comes to this arc:

  • ‘Typical’ fall – the character changes for the worse through bad decisions.
  • Corruption – the character changes for the worse but ends up embracing the change.
  • Disillusionment – the character discovers a truth about the world that leaves them unhappy or bitter at the end of the story. (This type is sometimes better applied to the growth style of arc, as it doesn’t necessarily involve a complete transformation, just a change of perspective within the character.)

Fall arcs are perhaps most commonly used in creating villains. They’re particularly effective when the character begins as someone who could be perceived as the hero, but undergoes a negative transformation and becomes a villain or antagonist instead (plot twist!).

When writing a fall arc, it helps to consider whether you want readers to be sympathetic to your character. If so, perhaps go down the route of a traditional ‘fall’ arc or a disillusionment; if not, you can create a full corruption arc, in which the character is as terrible as they come!

Be sure to keep things realistic when it comes to character motivations, though – there’s no point giving a character a negative or ‘villain’ arc if there aren’t believable motivations behind it.

 

A note on flat character arcs

Something to remember: not all characters need to experience a major, defined character arc.

Flat character arcs, while much less common than the types we’ve discussed above, do exist. They involve no change or growth within the character, who’s exactly the same at the end of the story as they were at the beginning.

Flat character arcs are most often found within certain genres, such as mystery (e.g. Sherlock Holmes), adventure (e.g. Indiana Jones), and spy thriller (e.g. Jack Reacher, James Bond).

However, flat character arcs can and do exist within all genres and styles of story. Many minor characters experience flat arcs, leaving the more defined arcs for the protagonist and other main characters.

An important note, though: be careful not to confuse a flat character arc with a lack of development for your character. Sometimes, if your character’s arc appears quite static, it means they are underdeveloped and that their journey and characterisation need to be more compelling – especially if they are a major character.

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Happy writing!

Via: https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/create-compelling-characters-character-arcs/

Writing Prompt: Breaking News

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Extra extra! Read all about it!

Here is a writing prompt to really get those creative juices flowing:

Write a made-up news report.

This could be an idea taken from something you’ve seen in real life, maybe something you read in a local or national paper.

Or you could take one of your fictional characters and imagine something newsworthy happening to them – how would that event be reported in the morning papers?

It could be an opinion piece or a feature, a wedding announcement, something unusual or exciting taking place in the community, or it could be the crime of the century!

Who knows. Maybe it will spark the idea for your next novel, or give you an exciting new twist.

Or it could be that prompt you needed to develop your plot and get you out of that rut you’ve been stuck in.

Happy writing 🙂

 

Sarah Perry on her struggle to become a writer

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A fantastic and inspiring article for any struggling writer – read this and keep the faith!

Enjoy x


My first book was published when I was 34. I was at that time a copywriter, earning a living by removing errant apostrophes from clothing catalogues, and drafting news reports for legal journals. Before then, I had been a civil servant (a job to which I was ill-suited in every respect), a minimum-wage shop worker, a nanny, an office temp and a legal administrator. Often I am asked what possessed me to join the civil service straight after graduation, and the frank answer is that I had supported myself financially since I was 18, and needed to earn a living: writing, my long-held ambition, would have to wait.

When it became intolerable to me that I was not doing the one thing I had ever felt would give my life purpose, I applied for an MA and then a PhD in creative writing (funded by a tax rebate and a scholarship respectively). I began a novel, and abandoned it, and wrote a series of earnest and trite short stories; I took up the novel again, and wrote a thesis on the gothic, and all the while carried out my full-time work as a secretary to a committee of barristers.

It never occurred to me that I would be able to make a living from writing fiction, and I did not in the least resent my day job, though naturally I occasionally imagined finding a hoard of Saxon gold in the back garden. I knew that Philip Larkin had been a librarian in Hull, that TS Eliot had worked in a bank, that Harper Lee had worked for an airline. I knew that some books achieved vast advances, but that these were both rare and potentially something of a poisoned chalice. In due course my first novel was sold for an advance entirely in keeping with a strange book already turned down by upward of a dozen publishers, which is to say, roughly a month’s wages.

I continued to write copy for lawyers’ websites, pausing sometimes to look out of the window and think about the legend I’d recently heard of an ancient serpent menacing Essex. Debts were large; money was tight; my laptop – which I’d once inadvertently set on fire while cleaning the keyboard with a canister of compressed air – did not work unless plugged in, and was too heavy to carry for long without backache. The prospect of writing a second novel – destined for an indifferent readership, likely to earn little money – while working late into the night transcribing interminable interviews with businessmen was daunting. But my agent and publisher were warmly supportive, and at any rate I had nothing better to do with my life.

Then, in 2014 I won the East Anglian book of the year award [for After Me Comes the Flood]. The effect of the prize was twofold. First, it conferred the sense of legitimacy that I’d never quite been able to summon up: a group of writers had admired my work, and they wanted me to write more. I was by then already at work on my second novel, The Essex Serpent, but always dogged by a curious sense of foolishness. I was poor, and getting poorer: what was I thinking, staring at the wall making things up, when I could do something both more useful and more remunerative? Ought I to have been a barrister? Should I perhaps teach? Writing felt, obscurely, like a moral failing. Then I was handed a glass trophy and a cheque at a ceremony in a Norwich department store, and felt suddenly at ease.

Most practically, the prize enabled me to replace my laptop with a slender one light enough to carry on trains, and able to retain its charge. I did not need it, precisely – one can write novels in mud with a pointed stick – but I felt like an apprentice carpenter given the tools of the trade by a benevolent guild. I bought stickers reading THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS and DON’T PANIC in nods to Woody Guthrie and Douglas Adams, fixed them to the lid, and set about my writing with vigour vastly renewed. On my laptop, I have written two novels, two short stories, and innumerable essays and articles. It now contains a document tentatively labelled book4.doc, and following a period of immense good fortune I am free to choose what I write, when I write it, and for whom.

This year I am chair of judges for the Desmond Elliott prize, an award for the best first novel of the year. It was set up in memory of the late literary agent, who arrived in London from Ireland with two pounds in his pocket, and went on to represent Jilly Cooper and Penny Vincenzi. But it is perhaps more accurately an award in support of the second novel, since its £10,000 prize is explicitly intended to nurture the winner’s next work, and offer stability and support as they continue to develop their practice.

The debut novelist comes equipped with a certain glamour that swiftly fades. Each year the newspapers present, with an enthusiasm that I at any rate find infectious, the “new intake” of writers. There is always the possibility that among those unfamiliar voices will be one still speaking from the shelves in decades to come. Debuts only rarely constitute the best of a writer’s output but it is striking to note how frequently debut novelists are unable to fulfil their early promise, and how easily the roving spotlight of literary attention moves on to fresher faces.

I am particularly invested in the notion of a prize for debuts which frankly acknowledges the need to help authors into the next stage of their career, because I know how a prize can prove transformative both in terms of financial support and in conveying a sense of legitimacy. When I was first published, I confess I felt some anxiety about myself: about the Essex accent that makes itself known unless I concentrate, my lack of connections through family and friends, my polytechnic degree. Would I feel like Pip in Great Expectations, mocked by Estella: “He calls the knaves jacks, this boy”?

As it turned out, I discovered that organisations such as Arts Emergency and the Arts Council were working to correct a historical skew towards a certain kind of publishing culture (and I was delighted to find that my own publisher was the first to offer internships on a London living wage). Where inequalities in publishing persist, money is often at the heart of the matter. If you are able to devote yourself to writing from, say, your late teens – because you need not earn much, if at all; because you do not need to care for children, or family members; because a friend’s friend needs someone to house-sit their Edinburgh flat for six months – you are at liberty to write, and write, and write. And writing, like playing the piano, or lathing a cabinet smooth, requires practice.

Awards such as the Desmond Elliott prize can help to put a spirit level over the playing field. Any entrant can find themselves suddenly in possession of a sum that is not life-changing, but which will buy a degree of freedom to write, or a necessary research trip, or – as in my case – sharper tools. Writers are not owed a living any more than other artists, and financial prizes are not precisely necessary. Put your mind to it, and you can write a slender volume of verse on the back of till receipts with a stolen Argos biro. But writing is difficult for everyone, and more difficult for some than for others. And in a society in which some communities are significantly more likely to lack financial privilege those difficulties can stultify and narrow the culture. There are many voices going unheard, and it’s both a duty and a pleasure to help pass on the amplifier.

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Via: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/27/sarah-perry-novelist-literary-award-prize-winning-debut-writer?CMP=share_btn_tw

Why Comparing Yourself to Other Writers is Killing Your Creativity

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I’m going to be honest with you. I have this problem (which is a fairly common one) where I compare myself to other people. I’ll spare you the mushy, self-esteem-issues stuff because day-to-day it doesn’t bother me that much.

But when it comes to my creativity, comparing myself to other writers is really not okay. I’ve come to realise this in the last few months, and want you to know why (even though we all do it from time to time) we need to stop. It’s a matter of taking pride in yourself and your own writing rather than trying to find ‘the answer’ in other people.

Common complaints of the chronic comparer

Ever finished an incredible book, one that had a profound effect on you, and wanted to know more about the author? Of course you have. Flick to the author bio, do a quick Google search. You find out they started submitting to publishers when they were 15, they had a book deal by 20 and they’re making tonnes of money, or even worse, they never wanted to be a writer, they just sort of ‘fell into it’ and got extremely lucky – suddenly it’s like someone’s let the air out of you. Here you are in your 30s bumming around still trying to write that first novel and wishing your MS was even half as amazing. This is your life. And look at theirs. Tragic.

Stop. Stop right there.

You’re no doubt familiar with the scenario above, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an acceptable way to judge yourself as a writer. The more you compare yourself to others this way, the more you devalue yourself.

Such thoughts might go along these lines:

They’ve written so many amazing things / I haven’t written anything good

They’ve been published so many times / I’m not even good enough to get a response

They write every single day / I can’t even write once a week

These sort of thoughts are neither productive nor helpful to your development as a writer, so banish them from your mind the second they start to creep in.

Making yourself depressed over what other people are doing only wastes time that you could be being productive, that you could be making a change toward the things you’re complaining about. If you’re feeling low because Ray Bradbury wrote an early draft of Fahrenheit 451 in just nine days and you’ve been sitting on your book draft for over a year (yes, this is my life) then stop pouting and get a wriggle on. Instead of getting depressed about it, use it as motivation to get your head down.

Pep talk: you are awesome

Okay. Here’s the sentimental, motivational part: every artist is different, and just because your methods or techniques aren’t the same as everyone elses’ doesn’t mean they’re any less valid. Emily Dickinson shut herself up to write, but that doesn’t mean we all need to become hermits. Hunter S. Thompson was a gonzo journalist who did tonnes of drugs, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to report a story.

Own your habits and your quirky creative identity. Find your own voice. Write by your own rules, and don’t let anyone else dictate how you should do it.”

Yes, there are writers who’ve been published young, or who mingle with big names, or who got a crazy-lucky break into the industry (Evie Wyld, I’m thinking of you). But the thing about those amazing writers is that they didn’t get where they are now by being someone else, they did it by being the writer they were meant to be; by being themselves and putting in a lot of hard work. You might not be where they are, but if you don’t believe in yourself you won’t even get close. As the saying goes:

Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”

How to compare constructively

While comparing yourself to other writers in a negative way can be damaging to your creative self-esteem, you can turn the experience into a positive. Instead of wallowing and feeling crummy, think about your achievements and inspire yourself to keep creating. The worst thing you can do is give up because you don’t believe in what you’re doing. Think about those writers that simultaneously excite and revolt you with how amazing they are. They’re amazing because they tried, because they put in the effort, and in the end they made it.

Find the positives

Maybe your stories and poems have been rejected a lot, and you haven’t won any competitions, but at least you’re submitting them which is a massive dedication in itself.

Maybe you haven’t been writing much lately, but maybe you’ve been pursuing other creative tasks like reading your favourite books. Or researching some important plot points. These are also valuable uses of your time.

Turn your self talk on its head. Find a plus amidst the minuses. Give yourself permission to be awesome, stroke your ego a little. It’s absolutely acceptable, I promise.

Vent to a friend

Sometimes the only thing you can do is text a buddy or meet up for a drink after work and let loose. Chances are, they totally understand where you’re coming from (especially if they’re a writer too) and can balance out your frustration with a fresh perspective.

Talk to writer friends, or find a Twitter or blog post about it. I guarantee you will find others in the same boat. It certainly helps to hear that you’re not alone in the way you feel about your writing idols (and trust me, we’re all right there with you on this one).

Take action

If you’re unhappy with where you are in your creative journey, make a change. Don’t waste another minute. You can twist those negative feelings towards other writers back around and set yourself some achievable goals. Want to write more or even finish that novel? Set deadlines and cover your walls in post-its. In love with the technique or style of a particular author? Give it a go in your own writing and see how it works. Challenge yourself by saying, ‘yes, I can do that too’ or ‘I’m going to do it even better’. You might just surprise yourself!

Happy writing x

***

Via: https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/why-comparing-yourself-to-other-writers-is-killing-your-creativity/

The Psychology of Flow: What Game Design Reveals about the Deliberate Tensions of Great Writing

“The books that give us the most pleasure, the deepest pleasure, combine uncertainty and satisfaction, tension and release.”

A full creative life requires equally that we cultivate a capacity for boredom, as legendary psychoanalyst Adam Phillips asserted, and learn to welcome rather than avoid difficulty, as Nietzsche believed. Great stories, like great life-stories, are woven of the same interplay between fertile ennui and surmountable frustration – so argues writer Peter Turchi in one especially rewarding section of the altogether stimulating A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic.

In a sentiment that illuminates the psychological machinery behind Nabokov’s famous assertion that “a good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader,” Turchi recounts poet C. Dale Young’s experience of reading and rereading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

The first time he read it, he said, the book seemed perfectly clear. Why did people make such a fuss? Moved to reread it, he found Conrad’s tale increasingly elusive, more complicated. Richer. However it happens, the appeal of the books we return to is often, at least in part, a fascination with what we can’t quite reach.

This notion of the elusive, Turchi goes on to argue, is essential to the alchemy of storytelling. Turning to pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work on flow — that state of intense focus and crisp sense of clarity where you forget yourself, lose track of time, and feel like you’re part of something larger — Turchi explores the role of challenge in the “flow channel” of narrative.

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He cites game designer and Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse Schell’s book The Art of Game Design, which identifies the four elements necessary to put a game player (and, by extension, a reader) into a fruitful “flow state”:

  1. clear goals
  2. no distractions
  3. direct feedback
  4. continuous challenge

The last one, Turchi argues, is of especially delicate balance. He quotes Schell:

If we start to think we can’t achieve [the goal], we feel frustrated, and our minds start seeking an activity more likely to be rewarding. On the other hand, if the challenge is too easy, we feel bored, and again, our minds start seeking more rewarding activities.

Turchi considers this tricky balance against the great trickster that is time:

Simply establishing a constant state of challenge turns out not to be effective for long. Instead, the ideal situation, flow-channel-wise, is to keep the game player or reader moving within a tolerable range of new challenge and acquired skill — or, as Csikszentmihalyi puts it, between anxiety and boredom.

A child might be challenged by playing tic-tac-toe, for instance; but once someone learns how to win or force a draw every time, the game holds less interest. Books of sudoku and crossword puzzles are often labeled easy, medium, or hard because few people will pay for a book of puzzles they can’t do, and not many more will spend time with puzzles that are too simple. With a game like chess, new players might have trouble remembering how the different pieces move; after that, the level of difficulty changes with the opponents they play.

flowchannel2

A similar mechanism is at work in the game of narrative:

This cycle of satisfaction and frustration is familiar to every writer. We write sentences or drafts that disappoint us, and we feel frustrated. But then a sentence or paragraph or image delights us, and that success encourages us to continue. If we never felt pleasure from anything we wrote, we’d stop; but if we were completely satisfied, if we didn’t feel the urge to move beyond what we have accomplished or to take on a new challenge, we’d lose interest.

This is essentially what Zadie Smith captured in the last of her ten rules of writing: “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.” Except the sadness is simultaneously a stimulant for the satisfaction, for both reader and writer. Turchi captures this elegantly:

Most serious poetry and fiction is unlike a game in that it doesn’t intend to become increasingly difficult, but it is like a game in that we want the reader to be engaged and to experience some combination of intrigue, delight, challenge, surprise, provocation, and satisfaction. The ideal reading experience might be comparable to that flow state. The books that give us the most pleasure, the deepest pleasure, combine uncertainty and satisfaction, tension and release.

Returning to Schell’s theories of game design, Turchi relates the basic paradigm to writing:

It isn’t enough for the story to be somewhere in between too hard and too easy; ideally, the story will provide the reader an ongoing series of challenges and satisfactions.

 

He illustrates the interplay between challenge and satisfaction with a befitting metaphor:

If, on a hike, all we care about is convenient travel — the physical equivalent of reading a kitchen appliance manual — we’re happy to have big stepping stones, close together, and a quietly flowing stream. But if we’re looking for an interesting experience, if the stream is quiet, the stepping stones can be smaller or farther apart. If the stream is wide and the water is rushing by, we want the security of flat, broad stones. Eventually, some of us will seek out greater adventures — a deep, rushing stream and small, uneven stones that are a long, uncertain stride apart — but if that experience goes on too long, we’re likely to grow exhausted (or fall and be swept to our death; happily, such a dire fate is unlikely when we tackle Absalom! Absalom or Ulysses).

To keep her readers in that vitalizing flow state, Turchi argues, a great writer ought to deliberately move them “between stages of frustration and satisfaction, of tension and release.”

***

Via: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/12/05/peter-turchi-a-muse-a-maze-book-flow/

Simple Ways For A Writer To Stay Inspired

Inspiration2

It’s a contradiction we writers know all too well: wanting to write with every fibre of our being, but lacking the necessary inspiration to get started and/or keep going.

So what are we to do when creative motivation is lacking? Simply waiting around for inspiration to strike isn’t a viable option, but neither is forcing something onto the page just for the sake of writing. We’re left with no choice: we have to take inspiration into our own hands and seek it out ourselves.

This is definitely easier said than done, so to help my fellow writers out of any creative ruts, here are six simple tips for becoming and staying inspired as a writer.

1. Gain experience

It’s hard to write something truly good, something that profoundly connects with readers, if there’s no experience behind the writing. Now, when we say ‘experience’, we’re referring to both writing experience and general life experience. Let’s look at the difference between the two.

Writing experience

‘Wait a minute,’ you may be thinking. ‘Isn’t this a bit of a catch-22? If I’m having trouble finding inspiration to write, how can the solution be…to gain more writing experience?!’

We know it sounds tricky – and, truthfully, it can be. But there’s no getting around the facts: the main thing that makes your writing better is doing more of it. Writing and inspiration go hand-in-hand as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: often, the more you get stuck into writing, the more you’ll be inspired to continue writing, and so on.

Likewise, the more you write, the better you’ll get, and the more chance you have at success through publication or recognition. Oftentimes, a bit of encouragement and the reassurance that you’re doing something well can provide you with all the inspiration you need to keep going.

To get to that stage, though, you do need to face one of the most common problems for writers: getting started. But there are a few helpful hints in that vein, so read on…

Life experience

It may sound clichéd, but the truth about literature is that when it comes down to it, all writing is about life. Every writer, whether consciously or subconsciously, draws on their own knowledge and experiences to inspire them and breathe life into their work.

As a writer seeking to be as prolific as possible, it can be easy to forget that actually living life is the best way to have things to write about! Spending all your time holed up, concentrating on putting words on the page, can actually be counterproductive. It’s impossible to write something that has real conviction, passion and impact if it’s not coming from a real place.

So, besides the natural course and events of your own life, what else about the world can inspire your writing?

Travel, of course, can be a wonderful muse; new cultures, new people and new adventures are all great catalysts for your creative spark. Getting out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in unfamiliar places can refresh you and provide new perspectives from which to consider life.

However, you don’t necessarily need to spend six months abroad to foster inspiration for your next story. Seeking inspiration can be as simple as sitting in a café or on a park bench, people-watching and listening to snatches of conversation, observing the flow of the world around you and allowing it to blossom into concepts and stories.

2. Read widely

This one is a given, and it’s probably something you’ve heard many times before, but the importance of reading can’t be stressed enough. All good writers are readers too. No matter how individual a style or how natural a talent you have, your writing will always be made better by the other work you read and absorb.

Obviously, you should read extensively within the genre or style you intend to write in, but don’t limit yourself to that alone. Whenever you’re not writing, try to devour a variety of genres and forms. Explore fiction and non-fiction, short-form and long-form, poetry and short stories, magazine and blog articles… Read everything, and read often!

Reading becomes especially crucial when you’re lacking inspiration. We don’t necessarily mean that you should go searching for new ideas within other people’s works; while a brainwave might indeed strike you while you’re in the middle of a new novel, it’s more likely that reading will simply remind you why you became a writer in the first place. Try to use the work of other writers as a constant source of encouragement, inspiration and motivation.

When it comes to non-fiction, books about the craft of writing can come in especially handy. There’s an incredible number of books about writing out there, so the titles you find most helpful and inspiring will depend on your individual writing aspirations. To get you started, though, there are a few recommended classic staples, as they will serve any writer well. These include:

  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Writing Book: A Practical Guide for Fiction Writers by Kate Grenville
  • The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury.

Here’s a great tip in today’s age of smartphones and social media: replace the time you’d usually spend aimlessly scrolling Facebook with some proper reading time. Whenever your hand automatically reaches for your phone during lunch breaks or before bed, redirect it towards a book instead! Your writing will thank you for it.

3. Be part of the writing community

Writing is something of a lonely pursuit. Solitary by nature and by necessity, the craft of writing demands that its pursuers spend a great deal of time inside their own heads. While this suits the majority of writers, there are times when it inevitably leads to frustration, a sense of isolation and a lack of inspiration.

When this is the case, it’s time to re-join the real world, and the best way to do so while also seeking inspiration is to connect with likeminded individuals in the writing community.

As we mentioned in point 2, the work of other writers is often a great source of inspiration – but what about writers themselves? Surely there’s no better way to motivate, reaffirm and refresh yourself than by reaching out to people who are just as passionate about writing as you are.

Obviously, this isn’t as easy as flicking Margaret Atwood an email to ask for a few tips. Instead, you’ll need to track down writers online or in your area – most of whom will be amateurs just like you – and start up a discussion, a joint project, or even just a new friendship.

A few good ways to immerse yourself in the writing community include:

  • Joining a local writer’s group;
  • Attending literary festivals, events, classes and workshops;
  • Participating in online forums, such as Facebook groups for writers;
  • Exchanging work with other writers for feedback and critiques.

The pleasure and benefit you’ll gain simply by talking to another writer is a gift in itself. To discuss your shared passion and craft, and perhaps most importantly of all, to be reminded that other people are having the same difficulties as you. There are few things more encouraging or inspiring to a struggling writer.

4. Keep things in perspective

Writing anything at all – whether it be a well-developed short story or (gulp) an actual full-length novel – can be extremely daunting. An insurmountable wall of possibilities and obstacles can loom up before you, and questions like ‘Where do I start?’ or ‘How can I ever finish?’ can haunt even the most confident wordsmith.

At times like these, it pays not only to remember that you aren’t alone (see point 3), but also to have a sense of perspective. Tackle things in terms of the bigger picture: remind yourself that all writers have been where you are, and that the only way you can truly fail is never to start at all.

To lessen the intimidation factor, keep in mind that writing just a few hundred words every day will add up in the long run. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid foundation upon which to build and expand or refine and improve.

For every writer, crafting stories takes time and extensive effort, so don’t beat yourself up about the problems you can see with your manuscript or the length of time you’re taking to write it. Just take things one word at a time; after all, that’s the only way to get things done.

5. Know yourself as a writer

A writer, like any other professional, needs to know how to play to their strengths. By doing so, you’ll ensure that you’re at the top of your game, producing the best work possible – and you’ll also nip a lot of insecurity and doubt in the bud.

Don’t dwell on your writing’s weaknesses or despair over the aspects of the process you find most difficult. By all means, work to improve these elements, but never allow pessimism to consume you – and, most importantly, never compare yourself negatively to other writers. Instead, focus on what you do best and what you’re most passionate about, and you’ll always find the inspiration and motivation you need.

For instance, if you have a knack for immersive, detailed description, try to build your story around this technique, painting a vivid and engaging portrait for your readers. If you’re more suited to writing snappy, compelling dialogue, use that as a focal point in your writing instead – or even try out a completely different medium that favours dialogue, such as scriptwriting.

As well as knowing your strengths as a writer, you should also make a point of structuring your writing process around your strengths as a worker. For example, if you find you’re most creative and productive first thing in the morning, get up early and dedicate AM hours to writing. Night owls, on the other hand, might choose to rise later so they can stay up writing into the night.

The bottom line is that no two writers will ever write – or work – in exactly the same way. Use this to your advantage by honing in on your individual strengths and allowing them to inspire and guide your writing.

6. Focus on writing first and editing later

At one stage or another, you’ve no doubt come across this sage piece of advice: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’. (While it’s commonly attributed to Hemingway, there’s no evidence that he ever actually advised such a thing – but that’s another story for another day.) While we’re firm believers that you should do what works for you in order to be inspired, we’re not necessarily suggesting that you pop a bottle of red every time you want to write!

Rather, we’re saying that you shouldn’t hold yourself back in any way when creative inspiration strikes. Have you ever sat down to write and found the words flowing forth quickly, effortlessly, almost as if you couldn’t control them? Have you ever found yourself feeling suddenly compelled to scribble down a phrase, thought or idea, even though you’re not entirely sure of the direction it’s leading?

Our advice is to always embrace that feeling completely. Whenever you’re struck by pure inspiration like this, don’t interrupt its flow for anything – let alone to correct grammar, change a word or rearrange a sentence. Without overthinking it, allow yourself to write whatever comes naturally, and don’t stop until you’ve run out of words. Get everything out onto the page, even if it doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t as elegantly phrased as you’d like.

It’s easy to develop the habit of editing as you write, but the truth is, this is neither the most productive nor inspiring way to do things. The writing and editing sections of your brain are totally different. When you’re writing, you’re tapping a well of creativity; you’re giving your mind free rein and exploring any and every possibility. When you’re editing, however, you enter a much more critical mindset, applying judgement, logic and rules to strip your work back to its purest and most effective state.

Always remember that a first draft is just that. It can be sculpted and shaped to your liking a hundred times before it ever sees the light of day; what’s important is that you have some truly inspired raw material to work with in the first place.

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So, writers: after all that, are you feeling any more inspired? If not, don’t worry. It could just be one of those days – we all have them. Take a break and come back to your writing later; but in the meantime, perhaps try out one of the above suggestions and see if it stimulates your creativity. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Via: http://writersedit.com/6-simple-ways-to-stay-inspired-as-a-writer/

Does The Perfect ‘Writer’s Space’ Exist?

Writing-Space

Image credit: Green Chameleon

Have you ever wondered if the perfect writing environment exists? Ever thought about whether or not our writing environment affects the quality of our work? Are there common components that define the perfect place to write?

In this feature, I ask four writers about where they conduct their business of writing: author, journalist and editor of Verandah Magazine Candida Baker; author of 15 books Robert Drewe; freelance writer and author Allison Tait; and television producer, writer and journalist Pascal Adolphe.

How important is where you write?

Candida Baker says that after writing for so many years, where she writes is not as important as when she writes…

I can pretty much write anywhere, but when I like to write is very early in the morning, as early as 4am, when the world is quiet, and the universe is fresh and new again.”

Candida uses meditation to guide her before and during these productive hours of her day. A cup of Lady Grey tea is never far away and her sofa is her office in the wee hours.

Robert Drewe admits that ‘the worst place on earth to write is next to a house with a constantly barking dog’.

His prerequisites are a place that is quiet and has natural light, with a desk and a chair and a power outlet for his computer. He sometimes writes in longhand first when the environment dictates it.

Allison Tait’s perspective has changed from a few years ago, now that her two small boys have grown. She admits to ‘wedging in words where I could’ and writing anywhere back then. She fantasises about being a writer who sits in cafes but says, ‘the truth is I get distracted. I need the quiet and the reminder that writing is work’.

She adds that the purpose of sitting at a desk also means work for her.

Pascal Adolphe believes that:

The physical environment and surroundings are largely immaterial to me as a writer. More important is the internal environment: that is, how I’m feeling. If I’m having a good day, I’m totally focused on the story and oblivious to my surroundings. In fact, I find that if you are in a place that’s romantically considered as the ideal place to write – such as a cottage by the sea or one with a view over some wondrous scene – it can be a distraction rather than an inspiration.”

Robert concurs: ‘You’re there to work. It’s not a holiday.’

What do you feel are the necessary components for a happy writing environment?

All four writers have had their share of chaotic newsrooms early on in their careers. Allison recalls ‘a fair bit of shrieking’ during her 14 years working in open-plan magazine offices.

It taught me great focus and how to work ‘inside my head’, which is to say that the entire outside environment fades away when I write. This has been particularly helpful as a freelance writer working around my children whilst trying to write fiction in any spare time available.”

These days Robert needs to have minimal interruptions and distractions. He also adds: ‘it’s a great help to have a partner who is sympathetic to these conditions and doesn’t feel threatened by your absorption in your writing, especially towards the end of a book’.

Pascal and Candida find that when there is a deadline they are happy writing anywhere. Pascal adds that writing under pressure in a busy, noisy environment is the most creatively fertile place for him. When Candida is not under pressure to deliver she can ‘get a bit prima donna-ish and decide I need absolute quiet’.

Allison tends to write quite late into the night. ‘As long as the lights are on, the room is quiet and I have my computer in front of me, I’m good to go.’ She has a messy desk and her walls are covered with her sons’ drawings.

Where have you written your best work?

‘I haven’t yet written my best work’ claims Candida. She continues, 

At least I hope I haven’t! But I hope that the novel I’m working on will be my best work, and that is my early-morning-on-the-sofa novel. Every now and then I experience complete aloneness and quietude, and the work that comes from that is some of my best, I believe.”

Pascal also thinks his best work is ahead of him in the shape of the novel he is writing. To date his best work as a paid professional are his television scripts, particularly for The New Inventors, created in a busy office environment and ‘on the road’ – in hotel rooms or on planes.

I have written in so many assorted places I can barely recall them,” says Robert. “In the city, when I began writing, I wrote The Savage Crows on an Olivetti portable on the kitchen table at night. And now, in the country, I write on a MacBook Air in a converted garage.”

Allison has a ‘Pavlovian response to putting my fingers on my keyboard when I am at my desk, and that’s where I do my best work. I don’t need a view because all I am looking at is the screen. When I wrote The Mapmaker Chronicles, I spent hours and hours looking at the wall in my study – but in my head there was a full-colour movie playing out.’

Did the writing environment influence the creation of your best work and why?

Candida now lives far away from the chaos of capital cities and their newsrooms. ‘I’m surrounded by massive fig trees, and the emerald grass is luminescent underneath the dark olive green of the macadamia trees. The green soothes my soul. Living in the country definitely informs my writing in the way that I see landscape and how I can meditate myself into the universe around me.’

Robert doesn’t think the environment affects the writing per se, as long as the conditions suit the individual. ‘You don’t need a sea view, for example, to write about the ocean. I think the imagination even works better when the writing environment is far from your fictional backdrop.’

Allison spent six weeks drafting each of the three books in The Mapmaker Chronicles. She thinks that because she has an established routine and just ‘got down to work’, the environment she created informed the speed and productivity of her writing.

She adds,

There’s no perfect place, except in front of your computer or notebook or whatever your writing tool of choice may be. I think people place too much emphasis on looking for the perfect place to write their novel. I often hear them saying things like ‘when I move to the country, I’ll write my novel, or as soon as I get a study of my own, I’ll write my novel‘.”

Pascal’s ‘light bulb’ moments can happen anytime. ‘Ideas for my writing sometimes are formed in that moment when I’m emerging from a deep sleep, thinking about a story.’ Such as when he got the idea for his latest challenge: writing his first novel, a political farce based on his experience growing up in Mauritius.

Conclusion

So it would seem, as the panel has indicated, the perfect writing environment is actually in our heads.

We carry it around with us. To get to that place of creativity we just need to focus on the task at hand, and get down to the job of writing.

Admitting that it is a job, that it is a ‘hard slog’ and that there is no way around this fact is the most pragmatic approach to productivity. As is establishing a routine. There is nothing romantic about the job of writing!

Deep within us writers there is an insatiable need to tell our story, to get the words down. Perhaps that novel, article or poem would never be written if we thought about the effort too much.

It’s the deep satisfaction of the creative process – of building something and then letting it go, starting anew – which drives us.

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Via: https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/perfect-writers-space-exist/

Cassandra Clare: ‘We need more gay relationships in young adult fiction’

Cassandra-Clare

(Photo by Rex/Moviestore)

Found this article very interesting, it raises a good point. Enjoy!


Cassandra Clare, the New York bestselling author of the Mortal Instruments series, has called for more representation of homosexual relationships in Young Adult fiction.

Clare told the teenage visitors to the Hay Festival that publishers turned her award-winning novels down because one of its main characters, Shadowhunter Alec Lightwood, was gay and embarked on a relationship with another young man, Magnus Bane.

“If publishers are throwing up roadblocks to wider representation of different parts of society, then we need to try harder to write books about them,” she said.

Answering a question from the audience, Clare explained that she knew it “would be a problem” to have a gay character in her novels, but that the character Alec developed his homosexuality as she wrote.

“Sometimes characters tell you things about themselves,” she said, “Alec was angry, and I realised he was in love with [his adopted brother] Jace”.

Clare’s books portray the ostracism some young homosexual people sometimes face. Alec is excluded by his people for being gay. After he made his relationship with Magnus public, he inspired other young Shadowhunters to open up about their sexuality.

Magnus and Alec’s relationship is popular with readers of The Mortal Instruments series. During her talk, Clare read from part of the forthcoming Bane Chronicles which detailed voicemail messages that had been left on Magnus’s phone after the end of his relationship with Alec.

Clare admitted that even she found it difficult to remember aspects of the unwieldy universe she had created for her novels, and that she had made a ‘Shadowhunter Codex’ full of “family trees and massive amounts of notes” that she now uses as a research tool.

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Via: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/Cassandra-Clare-we-need-more-gay-relationships-in-young-adult-fiction.html