Writing

Write or Die-Valuable Tips to Keep Your Writing Alive

The home of Victor Villaseñor, So. California
The home of Victor Villaseñor, So. California

Write or die.

This is the message my October writing life sent me. To that end, I went on a writing retreat with my group, WOmen Who Write (WoWW), attended SCWBI’s Writer’s Day, enrolled in an online University of Iowa workshop (free), and attended the Los Angeles Writer’s Digest Conference.

I’m a little tired from all this, but I have to tell you about our writing retreat in Carlsbad, California and share some writing tips.

We, eight women, arrived at Casa Villaseñor by way of Airbnb, never expecting to meet the esteemed writer Victor Villasenor, author, and owner of the home. After producing nine novels, 65 short stories and close to 300 rejections, he sold his first novel, Macho!, which the Los Angeles Times compared to the best of John Steinbeck.

Rain of Gold became a national best-seller and translated into seven languages. Another of his books was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I mention this about the author because his body of work evidences his persistence as a writer, the write or die philosophy.

We were surprised to find Mr. Villasenor on the grounds of the home. He was in another house (his casita) because he was finishing up a new novel. I can’t tell you what it’s about but I can say his joy of finishing the work was shared with all of us.

Through conversation, I picked up some valuable writing tips and I’m sharing these with you:

Every sentence needs to do one of the following:

  1. Scare the brain

  2. Touch the heart

  3. Inspire the soul

“Writing is about the moment, you are nowhere else, you are totally there…cause the person to live the moment with you.”-Victor Villaseñor

A few of us made a mad dash for our writing projects and examined our first pages. Sure enough, there was plenty of revision to work on.

The local chapter of Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrator’s (SCWBI) put on a “Writer’s Day,” at the Cal Lutheran University campus.

I attended a panel composed of literary agents and editors which I enjoyed. This is what they look for when they decide to read the first page of a Middle Grade or Young Adult work:

  1. Is the language child or teen-focused?
  2. Are there too many characters?
  3. Do I know whose story this is?
  4. Is the writer guilty of violating R.U.E? ( Resist the Urge to Explain)
  5. Where are we in the scene?
  6. Can I get a sense of the protagonist?
  7. Is the description embedded in action and dialogue?
  8. Do the details further the story?

If your first 250 words make it pass those eight questions the agent may read on to the next page. I venture to guess these tips apply to most fiction.

The esteemed University of Iowa, Writing Workshops has a free online course titled “Storied Women.” You can get a lot of writing bang for no bucks if you take this course. Although the course started Oct. 21, 2016, it doesn’t close until next month. You can still view the video’s and notes on voice, identity, point of view, plot, and structure.

 

Closer to home was the Writer’s Digest 2016 Writers Conference in downtown Los Angeles. I chose to drive into LA rather than stay at the storied Westin Bonaventure.

Friday traffic was crazy with the rain and the morning commute. The skyscrapers blended into the bleak sky, dark jackets and umbrellas scurried on the sidewalks.

On Saturday morning, the downtown was eerily quiet. No rain, no rushing, no noise.

The Westin Bonaventure-Los Angeles, downtown.
The Westin Bonaventure-Los Angeles, downtown.

I have to say, Writer’s Digest gives good workshops at a reasonable price. Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, presented last night. Alas, no photo of Ms. Smiley, but you can see some interesting photos of the Halloween Party (which I didn’t attend) on Twitter. Look under #WDNWC16. I do love the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Writer’s Block” costumes.

My favorite workshop was “Openings That Sell,” presented by literary agent and editor, Paula Munier.

“This is why I keep reading,” she began. Your first pages must have:

1-Strong voice

2-The level of craft is high

3-The character makes me feel something: there is an emotional impact in the first scene

4-Something happens (aka you have an inciting incident, a call to adventure)

5-A unique story or a story with a unique twist.

6-There’s a market for this story. 

7-The writer has gained my confidence and the page passes “the ahh test.” They provide a certain kind of experience.

8-It’s clear what kind of story is being told by the language.

9-The prose is clear, clean, and concise. Opt for clarity all the time.

10-Free of grammatical errors.

A great story is life, with the dull parts taken out-Alfred Hitchcock

Larry Brooks presented “The Most Important Moment in your Story.” There was a lot of material in this workshop about concept, premise, and the dramatic arc. He has a website, StoryFix.com, where you can visit and read all the good stuff he has for writers.

I hope you found some tips in this post to use or share.

Keep calm and write on.

Encouragement, Inspiration, Writing, Writing blogs, Writing groups

How Writing Goals Are The Secret Ingredient…

pottery figure of women encircled around candle, www.alvaradofrazier.com
Circle of Women Writers-WOmen Who Write, WOWW

 

to becoming a better writer.

Last night I met with my six writing sisters, a creative group of fascinating women who write stories and poems. This was our first meeting of the new year.

In 2015, we left behind numerous rejection letters, rewriting queries until all the cows came home, and some awesome writing conferences.

One of our rituals is to light our ‘writing sisters’ candle before we begin ‘checking in.’ This helps us to focus after all the chit chat and munching that proceeds our work.

During our check in we heard some thrilling news. Toni, one of our members, secured a literary agent to represent her middle-grade book and another member, Florencia, is in ‘talks’ with a publishing house for her creative non-fiction book. You can check out her cool blog here: Eat Less Water

We shared our writing goals, too many to mention, but you may find these 5 Simple Steps showing you how to set up SMART goals.

To make our lives easier, we also came up with a word for the new year. A single word to post near our writing space and journal is a reminder of our individual intentions.

  • Refine,
  • Momentum,
  • Go,
  • Possibilities,
  • Zoom!

Intention creates reality

Our meeting also included planning for one retreat a quarter. We need a day or three to refresh ourselves with hugs, laughter, and writing. This is how we make it through the ups and downs of a writing life entwined with families, jobs, and other responsibilities.

So the secret ingredient to achieving your writing goals and becoming a better writer is no secret. Becoming a better writer is a lot of hard work. You need persistence, resilience, and someone to cheer you on when you want to give up.

If you want to set an intention, you may like Deepak Chopra’s 5 steps to Setting Powerful Intentions.

To help you fulfill your writing goals you can check out this post: Top 100 Writing Blogs for Writers.

Now, give it all you got this year and get those writing goals down on paper and up on your writing space.

Until next time.

 

Encouragement, Strong Women, Writing

Agent: What I Wish Writer’s Knew

"Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com."
“Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.”

After a short birthday break in beautiful San Diego, California, I’m back to my writer’s world, feeling a little down.

Like many writers one gets discouraged after a couple of years or five. I’m most happy when I’m writing stories, following the character on a journey, ending up in places I hadn’t intended. I have to confess that I like revision too. At least I’m still with my characters, in the story.

Right now I’m in the close to blah place: sending out queries, reading rejection letters and submitting poetry and short pieces to small journals.

What perks me up is blogging. I can write, post, maybe a few readers or fellow writers like the subject, and I feel a connection to the comments. Someone hears me, someone is talking with me. It feels like community. This helps motivate me to keep on keeping on.

Today, I want to continue with what I learned at the A Room of Her Own (AROHO) writer’s retreat last month.

Agents. Ack! FInding one is like searching for the Holy Grail. They don’t drop out of the sky or come knocking at your door. A writer hopes their query letter grabs and holds them until they finish reading the darn letter, jot down your name, and call you. It could happen. Or not.

Truth is Literary Agents are working people. They have to make a living. If they take a gamble on a writer, the odds better be in their favor.

I’ve noticed that in the last three years, conferences invite Agents and writers to participate in an Agent/Writer speed dating event. The writer has 90 seconds to 3 minutes to make their pitch before the bell rings and the writer moves on. Nerve-wracking, mind boggling, exhausting (but that’s just my opinion).

Speed dating. Gettyimages.com

Here’s what this agent participant had to say about Speed-dating for Agents.

For those of you who don’t chose to pay and involve yourself with the speed dating scene (at least for now), here’s some advice and wisdom from an agent I had the pleasure to hear speak at AROHO 2013.

Joy Harris established the  Harris Literary Agency. She is most interested in literary fiction and narrative non-fiction. Her interest is in working directly with writers to help guide their careers, negotiate on their behalf, and protect their work. At the AROHO retreat she presented a short workshop on

“What I Wish Writer’s Knew.”

  1. “Who is going to read my book.” Writers should have a good idea of their audience. Tip: “Everyone,” is not the answer. Think age range, educational level, personal or professional,  and interests. Communicate this to an agent.
  2.  Your MS has to excite the agent, right away from that first sentence of the first paragraph. Editors and Agents have less time and the pile of manuscripts (MS) is higher.
  3. Find avenues to get your shorter works published. Research journals and small presses. Get your work out there. (I subscribe to Poets and Writers magazine and they have an online search for writing contests and journals).
  4. Approach an Agent Appropriately. Find out which agents represent books in your genre. Read the submission rules and follow them. Keep your query letter short-one page. Be prepared to make your pitch short and sweet. (Rachelle Gardner has a fill in the blank pitch).
  5. Short stories and memoirs are not selling as well as before, but are much easier to publish if the short stories/memoir is your second or third book.
  6. Self-publishing and E-Book publishing are difficult. Be prepared to be the agent, writer, publisher and marketer.
  7. Publishers want writers with a platform whether it is celebrity, social media, or professional connections.
  8. Publishers want writers to have publishing credits: work in journals, magazines, awards, contest winners or honorable mentions.
  9. Contracts: Don’t sign a contract that ties you to an agent for “…all future works.” It should have a 30 day notice of termination.

Bottom line is there is no easy road to publishing, but we can prepare ourselves with up-to-date maps, rest stops, and visits along the way to make the cross country journey a little easier.

Inner strength, patience, humor, and community helps. So does coffee, dark chocolate and good wine.

Books, Encouragement, Writing

Writing From the Neck Down-advice from Janet Fitch

The Labyrinth at Ghost Ranch
The Labyrinth at Ghost Ranch

One of the greatest rewards of attending A Room of Her Own (AROHO) writer’s retreat was the ability to listen to writers I’ve long admired. One of these writers is Janet Fitch, the author of a beloved book of mine: White Oleander.

When I read White Oleander, back in 2001, I was working with youthful offenders in a correctional facility. Most of them had been in the foster care system (like the protagonist in White Oleander). I often wondered how this writer managed to capture the loneliness and sense of hopelessness felt by foster kids and put these feelings into a poetic narrative.

This quote is one of my favorites:

“The pearls weren’t really white, they were a warm oyster beige, with little knots in between so if they broke, you only lost one. I wished my life could be like that, knotted up so that even if something broke, the whole thing wouldn’t come apart.” ― Janet Fitch, White Oleander

While at AROHO, I was too awe-stricken to approach Janet Fitch and let her know how much her book meant to me. Her book was one of the reasons I wanted to begin to write. I must confess that my “awe-struckness” diminished when I observed how down to earth Ms. Fitch carried herself among the group. She sat in the audience like the rest of us, mixed and mingled, strolled the grounds without an entourage, and pleasant to everyone. I relaxed even when I ended up sitting next to her at a presentation. I didn’t take the opportunity to tell her how much I love her writing (I’m a classic introvert).

My “awe-struckness” reared its head again when I inadvertently caught up with her on a stroll down a dirt path. For four days I planned to walk the labyrinth and rake the zen garden. During break time I hustled down the road towards the labyrinth. The woman slightly ahead of me wore a very cool, tightly woven black and white sun hat. I commented on the hat. Janet Fitch turned around and replied, “Thank you.” She then proceeded to tell me that she found my presentation, the night before, powerful and advised me to send my writing to a journal, giving me the specific title and editor’s name. I had to work at closing my mouth while I nodded in appreciation. She was trying to find a place to paint and we walked until we found the right place for her to paint the mountain behind the labyrinth.

But I digress. Back to the title of this post. Later that day Janet made a presentation “Writing from the neck down.” Her first point was that most writers stay “above water,” when writing.

Janet FItch-AROHO 2013
Janet FItch-AROHO 2013

“We have to write about the 9/10’s that are beneath the water.”

So how do you get below the waterline to write the deep stuff, the emotional, the essence that writers need to put on paper?

  • by chance, synchronicity, by opening yourself up
  • write down a word, then question it: “…it was high,” well how high was it?
  • write down the emotion and ask what does that emotion mean? use the word as a prompt, write it out, draw it out, paint it out
  • let your writing go, incorporate what you smell, feel, hear, touch, taste and see around you

An interesting story Janet talked about was her muses. She has five great authors she sits with for tea (in her imagination) in her parlor. She asks them questions about the work she is creating. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture all five but here are four to give you an example.

  1. Dillon Thomas-she goes to him about words
  2. Carl Sandburg-she discusses humanism
  3. Sei Shonagon (11th Century Japanese writer/poet)-she discusses beauty
  4. Sor Juana-I’m not certain but I think it was for her poetry

When it comes to writing novels, she says that she does a visual meditation about the protagonist and asks the following:

  • “What’s up with you?” and then listen
  • Interview your character. Jot down what you hear
  • “What do you want me to say for you?”

Now, write a scene. Now another-keep going.

Did you move your protagonist from one scene to the next using the senses, emotions, and her inner world? If you did, these exercises helped. If not, well, go back and meditate a little more or take a slow walk and be amazed at the hundreds of things around you. Touch the leaves of a flower, photograph outstretched branches, look at the clouds, see your reflection in the water. Go and seek out the miraculous.

You can visit Janet FItch’s blog to find valuable tips such as ” 10 Writing Tips That Can Help Almost Anyone.” 

You will also find this blog, by fella AROHO writer Barbara Yoder,  filled with more info about writing from her small group sessions with Janet Fitch.

“Live like a poet. See the world differently. Search for the miraculous. Be more amazed.”- Janet Fitch

Thanks for stopping by and write on.