Michaeline: Writing Treats

old advertising of a lemonade drink with lemons

Oooh, oooh, lemonade! Story-time is around the corner! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Summer’s here in the northern hemisphere, and it’s a brilliant time to treat yourself!

Use that treat to provide some writing motivation, and you’ll get double the trick from your treat. Or, use it to provide pleasurable associations for your summer writing task. If you are consistent in rewarding yourself, you could establish good habits.

First: give yourself a stick blender if you don’t already have one. This can be a reward for a job well-done, or a little bribe for some sit-down time. Plus, it’ll play a major role in many of the treats I outline.

If you are a bit stuck, go cherry-picking or strawberry-picking. Let your mind wander as your body is busy with a mindless task. Enjoy the sun, and the stretch of your muscles, and allow yourself a little wonder time. Bonus: A lot of places here allow you to pick-n-eat as you go. But even if they don’t, you’ll have delicious fruit to take home. Freeze half for later. Sit down and write, then indulge with a bowl of summer fruit.

Hot? Suffering for your art while sweating over the keyboard? Continue reading

Kay: I Finished the Book!

I finished the book.

Last Friday I typed “The End” on book two of a three-book trilogy about Phoebe’s adventures in romance-land. It’s been a haul for sure, starting with book 1, which I started before the McDaniel class in 2012, and didn’t progress much or at all in 2012 because of class, 2013 because of poor health, and 2015 because of family issues.

But now book 2 is finished. It still needs revisions—the last chapter in particular, which I thought I’d have to rewrite completely, but perhaps all I have to do is cut the last 1,000 words. I want to conflate two of my characters, that will take some thought. And there’s still the beta reads to go. Still, it’s all done but the shouting, as we’d say back in the Midwest.

Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that I ever got this far with it. Continue reading

Jilly: Powerful Shots of Story

Michaeline’s post yesterday (Story Bites for When You Just Can’t) was exactly what I needed. I’m tantalizingly close to the end of my draft, and I know what I need to do, but this last handful of scenes is driving me bananas.

I’m not the fastest writer, but once I’ve figured out what’s supposed to happen in a scene, I can normally nail a decent draft in a day or two. Right now, each one is taking me a week or more: write, delete, rinse and repeat.

My problem is that all the key players are coming together and the stakes are high. In my head the scenes are great, but capturing that intensity on the page is hard. My lack of progress has been making me very cranky indeed, so I thought I’d take Micki’s advice and see if approaching the problem from a different angle would boost my spirits and improve my productivity.

I already have a playlist and a collage for Alexis, so I decided to try something different and write a haiku for each main character at this critical stage of the story.

I’m no expert on haiku, but what I know is this: they should be three lines long, comprising seventeen syllables in a five-seven-five pattern. And ideally they should provide an insight by juxtaposing two contrasting—or conflicting—ideas.

That sounds like the perfect structure for a brief story shot that aims to capture the essence of the character and their conflict.

I’m pleased to report that Continue reading

Nancy: The Most Important Question You’ll Ask Your Characters

We writers ask our characters a lot of questions. Who are you? What do you want? How will you get it? What are you willing to suffer, sacrifice, and change to reach your goal? If and when you reach it, are you sure that’s the thing you really want, after all?

These are all important questions. They are fundamental to building believable characters. But they aren’t enough to get to the heart of your story. To do that, you have to ask your characters why? Not just once or twice or even three times, but over and over again. Ask it until there is nothing more to uncover, until it seems your characters have nothing left to say. And then ask it one more time.

The importance of the question ‘why’ is a core concept of Lisa Cron’s Story Genius approach to writing. It makes sense. Of course we want to know why our characters do what they do. One way to learn why our characters want and do and react the way they do is to add whys throughout our development process. So what do you want? is followed by why do you want that?. How will you get it? is followed by why is that the path you’ll take?. Etc., etc. Ad infinitum.

And when should you stop asking why? Continue reading

Nancy: Writing Around the Web

Sometimes when writers are neck-deep in our own ideas and stories, we turn to other fiction for a mental reboot. Other times, it’s non-fiction, perhaps craft books. For the past week, I’ve been thumbing through Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story and Story Genius as I continue developing a novel with her brain science technique. For fun, I’ve been reading Stephon Alexander’s The Jazz of Physics. (Yes, that really is what passes for fun in my world.)

When I need a quicker fix, a quick shot of creative inspiration, or just a boost in the will to go on (because some writing days are just So. Damn. Hard.), I like to visit some familiar haunts on the web. A few posts have really struck a chord with me these past few weeks. If you feel yourself needing a boost, check out these articles for yourself, and poke around these sites – there’s so much good stuff to discover!

Arghink. This is the blog of Jennifer Crusie, mentor of the 8LW crew. Jenny’s blog is always chock full of great information, fun, and community, but recently, she’s also been sharing early drafts and revisions of her WIP. And it is as amazing as it sounds. Ever the teacher, Jenny is also sharing the way she approaches revisions. Continue reading

Jilly: What Are You Waiting For?

Full disclosure: today’s post is an update of one I wrote in 2015. Given the subject matter, I make no apology. I hope I’m lucky enough to post another update next April.

Four years ago this week, my husband almost died. One moment I was cracking jokes about man-flu, wondering if he had a chest infection and needed antibiotics; the next, we were in an ambulance heading for the resuscitation room. It was a very, very close-run thing, but with the help of the fantastic staff at the Whittington Hospital in North London, he pulled through and is (almost) as good as new.

I’m embarrassed to admit that while it was happening, we had no idea how much trouble we were in. We were too busy worrying about whether my husband would have to give up wine and asking if he’d be on his feet in time to go to the ballet the following week. Even when the consultant said “I think that’s the least of your problems,” the penny didn’t drop. It wasn’t until much later that I got the shakes.

I’m sharing this because there will never be a better day to say don’t take tomorrow for granted. If there’s anything that you’ve always promised yourself you would do, no matter if it’s trivial or life-changing, do it today.

Do it now.

Don’t wait for somebody else to make the first move. Don’t leave it until you’ve paid for your house, or the kids are a little older, or you’ve retired. Continue reading

Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part Two

A pastry chef rolling out a crust while a young girl looks on.

Put your heart into your work, and others will notice.

When Gordon Ramsay walked into the Hot Potato Cafe, little did he know that he’d be walking right out again that evening for the first time in the history of Kitchen Nightmares.

(Am I naive to believe that these shows aren’t totally scripted? Or am I just cute? Cue the dramatic music as we cross the suspension bridge of belief.)

Anyway, we’re at the Hot Potato Cafe, where Gordon is served frozen, half-warmed potato skins – a fitting metaphor for the owners and workers of this family-owned restaurant. Mistakes have left them hollow shells, their despairing wails echoing around the space their heart and their guts should be. “Help us, Gordon! We don’t know what to do!”

The chef is the owners’ niece. I can only assume that in an effort to save money, they brought in this young girl who has potential, but no formal training in cookery. She’s expected to follow the old menus and help keep the restaurant afloat. She says that the restaurant business isn’t her first choice of a career; she’s only here to help out the family.

Gordon storms out that evening because nobody seems to care if the business stays alive or not. And I think this is the first important lesson that this episode teaches: you can have money, you can have your basic materials and a venue, but if you don’t have the enthusiasm, it’s really hard to keep a business going. They beg him in the street for help, and he promises to come back the next day.

He creates a little excitement by having a baked potato contest. (Yes, I hear that bridge of belief creaking a little bit, but honestly, it’s pretty exciting.) The winner’s baked potato will make it on the menu that very evening, and bring back a touch of fresh, good cooking to the Hot Potato Cafe. Our young chef wins the contest, and she’s inspired to do a better job.

After a menu re-vamp, a free supply of Idaho potatoes, redecoration of the dining room and a good week-long pep talk, our cafe has its heart and guts back, and is ready to provide the best in potato dining in Fishtown. (See the menu for delicious chowder, that merges the cafe’s mission with the area’s history.)

So, this is what I learned: remember the enthusiasm that brought you to your art. Bring it back with short challenges, and then put your whole heart into your business.

The YouTube comments tell the story of what happened after Gordon Ramsay left. But that’s another story. For now, it’s enough to sit and write a little something that makes you happy, and represents what you really want to do as a writer. No half-baked empty potato skins. (If you do make literary potato skins, though, make ‘em fresh and beautiful and absolutely tasty. They have to work harder to impress, but they can outshine a plain ol’ baked potato when they are done with love and vision.)