NANOWRIMO Week Two: Here Comes a Writer With a Baby Carriage

Hello! Thanks for taking the time to catch up with the blog in the middle of one of your (hopefully) busiest writing months. At this point your mind set is probably so swayed to creating that reading outside of your work in progress is a lot like talking to another adult after being seeped in toddler-speak non-stop all week.

I know that your time is precious so I’ll keep it short and sweet. (Like me, ya’ll)

The second week of NANOWRIMO is all about elaborating on, fleshing out, and developing your baby. Last week we talked about the excitement of new love, the honeymoon stage of writing, if you will. This week is about the baby you’ve made and what that means for not just your writing, but your life for the next seven to ten days.

I know a lot of you are parents, and though it may have been awhile since you’ve spent the midnight hours rocking teary-eyed cherub back to sleep, chances are you remember the sacrifice of time and autonomy for the good of the future. This week is not much different for the NANOWRIMO process. You are starting to see the commitment involved and how the expectations you may have had in the beginning are often dashed by the realities.

Because children don’t always behave the way you think they will. Characters show unexpected traits and say things that throw your dynamic out of whack like dropping the f-bomb at Christmas dinner with Grandma, or asking you for “boob!” loudly in a store.

Settings and plot lines stall with the same debilitating frustration as trying to get a two-year-old into shoes because you’re late for the doctor appointment and you haven’t showered in three days, and you ate cold, leftover mac n cheese for breakfast and you’re not sure if that’s their diaper that smells or the dog…

Keeping on top of the little fires that come up isn’t easy but I encourage you to set a flexible schedule (it works with kids; it works with writing). Give yourself two hours ideally but really whatever you have is fine. Leave half for just writing. Leave the other half to fix plot holes, develop your character’s personalities and backgrounds, build on your story arc, and brainstorm solutions for things that are cropping up as you pour ever more work into the novel. Look at it like doing the groundwork of, feeding, changing, and burping for half of it, and the other half cuddling, coloring, singing, and playing.

A well rounded “story” is equal parts meeting the basic needs and getting to play in the creation of it.

Good luck out there. Nap when it naps, grab a shower while your computer backs up. Drink some coffee and prep for the long nights. Remember the bigger picture. Novels and babies are investments in the future. The work, and love, and committed care you invest now will lead to rewarding results in both your story, your characters, and your craft.

Oh…and get a decent meal. You can’t run on PB&J crusts and half eaten apples forever.

NANOWRIMO Week One: The Honeymoon

Ah, yes, the glorious stage of excitement and foreplay. The thrill of fleshing out your characters, and having them say clever things to one another, and building beautiful worlds with soft hues and brilliant sunsets. It’s champagne and butterflies, it’s rainbows and 3 hour love-making sessions with your laptop (please, God, not literally…the keys are hard enough to keep clean with just my coffee and pastry habit).

The words come easy, the beginning is new and exciting, the chemistry is just right. Possibly you’ve been planning this novel for awhile, maybe you even used October to plan it out and things are running smoothly and in great gushes of inspiration and excitement. (I think ‘gushes’ might be just as bad as ‘moist’ for cringe-worthy words).

OR

You’re stuck in front of your blank page and wondering why in God’s name you agreed to this. The stress of completing such a herculean task is causing every neuron to march around your addled brain with tiny little picket signs protesting the ridiculous workload before they even endure it.

You’re thinking of giving up. It feels as though you agreed to do this on a brash weekend in Vegas and you might have done so under the influence of alcohol and you really don’t know this book that well and what will your parents say and… is it too late for an annulment?

In the first case: Congratulations, keep going! If you have the stamina and inspiration to do so, front load these first couple of weeks so you can have a few days to ride if you need to recover. (I can’t help but hear Sheriff Bart’s voice in my head “Man, them schnitzengrubens will wipe you out!” Come on, people…Blazing Saddles)

In the second case: Don’t give up just yet. So she/he’s a gamble and you may have rushed into things. It’s normal to be nervous. It’s normal to feel like there’s nowhere to go. But you’re a writer. And writer’s do best when they stop questioning the end product and just write. See where that impromptu spouse will lead you, let it play out for a few days and enjoy the crazy weird ride that you’re on.

The secret to NANOWRIMO is to not overthink it. Because that’s when you start looking for all the imperfections and plot holes that send you into editing mode and canceling out any forward movement you have.

If you’re having trouble with getting your word count every day here’s some tips that have helped me:

  1. Break it up into smaller sections. A little in the morning, a little at lunch, some at night. Carry the laptop or notebook with you and write a few lines whenever you have a chance
  2. Keep your characters in your head with you at all times. How would they react to what you’re doing? What would they say to each other in the grocery store line? Let them talk to each other while you’re doing the dishes or in that third useless meeting of the day (come on, we all know at least 2/3rds of all meetings are just wastes of time that allow one person to hear themselves talk).
  3. Strike when the fire is hot. If you are on a roll, do everything in your power to keep writing…then in the middle of a paragraph or even a sentence–stop. Yeah, you read that right. Stop. It will frustrate you and keep your mind on what will happen next until you pick it back up. Foreplay people…there’s nothing like a little flirtatious teasing to make the next interlude all the more passionate.
  4. DO NOT be discouraged if you have a short day. Every word counts and a 400 word day is still 400 words. Like running or training, or anything really–great things are accomplished not always in leaps and bounds but by small progressive steps forward.
  5. Rest your fingers and your brain. Take breaks, sleep well, eat well, exercise, and get away from it throughout the day. Burnout probably happens most in the first couple of weeks when our inspiration gets ahead of our ability to keep at it with the same frantic pace.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Remember, comment below with how it’s going or send me quick email with any frustrations or elations you have and I’ll enter you to win a goodie basket with some books and writer self-care stuff that will help keep you going into this crazy month.

Good skill, Writer.

On Challenging Ourselves: National Novel Writing Month and Why It Matters

Good morning readers and writers. I’ve collaborated with the amazing folks at Masticadores to bring you a short series on what we affectionately call NaNoWriMo here in the States. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a world-wide, month-long challenge to help writers of all ages, genres, and abilities finish the first draft of novel (50,000 words) in one month (30 days).

Looking at those numbers, especially as a beginning writer, feels daunting, I know. But, having participated for 8 years, including 6 novels published (and soon to be published) I can tell you; it is possible.

Now listen, I’m not a full-time writer. I’m a mom and a teacher. I’ve got a household, and pets, a garden, and other writerly obligations to fulfill, so I understand the idea of committing to this kind of word count can feel impossible. In this intro, I’ll break down the basics, and by the end I hope you’ll look at this challenge as something you can’t wait to start.

Breaking it down:

  1. If you want to get all math-y, 50,000 words in 30 days is only 1667 words a day and you don’t have to write them consecutively. 330 in the morning, 560 on a lunch break, 780 in the evening, and you’re there. OR, 5000 over the weekend and smatterings throughout the week as you have time. THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT IS TO KEEP WRITING. One of the purposes of this challenge is to make you realize how much available time you actually do have to write, when you make it a priority.
  • This isn’t about the final product, i.e. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME EDITING! One of the major killers of first drafts and time is self-editing. JUST WRITE. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, don’t worry if it’s down-right shit, just put the words on paper. Editing will come later, but you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So, write first…save the editing for December.
  • Use the resources at the website: National Novel Writing Month. You can set up your own dashboard, upload ideas, picture boards, short excerpts, possible titles and even inspirational playlists for each project. On the website you’ll find links to local events, helpful tips and blogs, ways to connect with other writers (buddies!), all kinds of support and help, and badges to keep you inspired along the way. ALSO: you can log your words per day and check on your progress (honestly one of the best tools for me. Nothing like a swanky bar graph to get a girl all excited to blow the curve, you know what I mean?)
  • If you don’t make the 50,000 words, there isn’t some Squid-Games pit that will open up and swallow you whole, but you will have made progress and learned a bit about your writing habits. If you do succeed in that word-count, you’ll receive free goodies to help in the next steps of editing, cover design, and self-publishing if you choose that route.
  • If you aren’t a novelist, don’t count this challenge out. At your author page/dashboard, you can select if you want to participate in the traditional challenge (50,000 words in 30 days) OR create a challenge of your own. It can be a collection of short stories or poetry. I’ve had friends and collogues use the challenge to get through final edits of their current novels or for drafting a complex series. The point is that you use the 30 days to build a habit of putting your writing first.
  • Lastly, as this blog is coming out in October, you will have plenty of time to prepare, especially if you’re a plotter/mapper. The weeks leading up to November 1st are a great time to outline your novel, create character boards, and get excited about telling your story.

For every week in November, I’ll be running one short blog (Wednesday or Saturday?) on this website to offer you inspiration for the week ahead. If you like the challenge, please support the cause by donating or picking up some sweet swag on their website. NaNoWriMo offers support and programs free for young writers to grow their skills, and for those disadvantaged or formally overlooked writers whose voices deserve to be heard.

I hope you’ll sign up. I hope you’ll find the time to invest in your book and yourself. I’m always open to any questions or thoughts on the matter, so hit me up at my website www.thebeautifulstuf.blog, through the contact page.

Thanks, and Happy Writing!

In the Dark and Light

So, last week, I hit a rough patch, and I appreciate all of the kind comments and voices of concern that were raised for my well being and in defense of the human. I wanted to take a moment, before I launch into today’s poetry (brought to you by the amazing NCW Writing Retreat I was able to attend) to reach out and say a few words.

I know all humans aren’t assholes. I also know it’s our job (each human) to try and do our best not to be assholes. To not raise assholes. To forgive those who are being assholes. I know these things. But just like holding a weight constantly can fatigue a muscle and cause injury, holding on to this dark while trying to be light can be draining, so it behooves us all to drop the weight once in a while and call out the asshole-ness when we see it. After all, our job as humans is to try to make it a better world and that sometimes means calling on others to do better by one another.

And now: Poetry:

Photo by Darius Krause on Pexels.com
Breakdown
When we break apart
to find the core of iron-will within
or the soft underbelly of a soul
too long denied air
Then we will understand the
driving nature of our force
Lies not in what covers us
but what centers us

When we give in to the churning
burn of a life outside our control
the masticating masses of teeth bared 
in anger and fear
Then we will understand that
we only control the product 
of our own mind
And we are the owners of
sanctuaries or hells
within our own creation

When we let go
of the idea that its our job
to dictate the perfections of others
to drive their engines
to direct the film of their lives
and focus instead on 
what beauty we can leave behind
Then we will find the only
fragile, and faltering peace
a human can own.

Going Back to School: How Writers Benefit from Classes, Conferences, and Trainings

It’s that time of year again, when the cold crisp air settles around and the light grows softer. The mornings are get-ups and lunch packing and full backpacks. The wind rustles drying leaves and the echo of everything Pumpkin Spice descends. Fall. Probably my favorite season (minus the Pumpkin Spiced everything). Fall signals the slowing down of the bustling summer, a cooling off (we hope), and a getting ready for the winter ahead. It also reminds us of new opportunities to learn, to gain intellectual ground, and to prepare for the prime writing months coming up.

There are plenty of ways to keep your skills sharp as a writer. Last spring, I covered the conference season and this post will be similar in that I’m going to give you some online resources for improving your writing skill, developing a business or marketing plan, and helping to boost your creativity. Just like conferences, a writer can easily blow their budget by trying to train themselves into success. My goal is to offer you a spectrum of options with the caveat that classes can show you how to write better, give you pointers on the business side of things and offer marketing advice, inspire new ideas, and improve your editing. About the only thing they can’t do is write your book for you.

The Long Haul:

MFA/MA Programs: These programs (Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts) are advanced, graduate degrees that can help to help your overall exposure to the big picture of writing (MA tends to focus more on Literature and less on writing, MFA can be broken down into Creative Writing, Journalism, Linguistics, etc). In these programs you will learn pretty much everything, from plot and structure, to dialogue and character development, to grammar and editing. It will take two years at least, and the cost averages out to about $38,000, not counting room and board. You’ll read an enormous amount of material. You’ll probably complete a novel or collection as part of your Thesis. Not a horrible way to go, but studies are showing that the cost of MFA programs are often not paid back in employment afterwards so–carefully think through that one.

Online Writing Courses:

A number of reputable online courses and classes are now offered through various writing groups, professional/successful authors, and university departments. The courses are less intensive than a MFA and can often be done at your convenience. They cost a lot less (some are even free) and you can often pick and chose the ones that will benefit you the most. Here’s a small list courtesy of softwaretestinghelp.com:

  1. Wesleyan University Creative Writing Specialization
  2. Gotham Writers Online Writing Classes
  3. Reedsy Learning Courses
  4. Udemy Creative Writing Courses
  5. edX Creative Writing Courses
  6. FutureLearn Creative Arts and Media Writing Courses
  7. OpenLearn Creative Writing
  8. SkillShare Online Creative Writing Classes
  9. Emory Continuing Education Creative Writing
  10. Universal Class
  11. Writers.com Online Writing Courses
  12. Masterclass Creative Writing Classes

Conferences, Seminars, Retreats

Feel free to refer back to my older post on conference (you can find it here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/04/01/a-word-or-several-about-writing-conferences/)

For this area of your continuing education I’ll ask that you explore seminars (mini conferences, or a series of five or more classes on one topic, like Novel Writing) and retreats in your area. I’m sure there are beautiful, far-flung retreats in tropical islands that are also available, but with travel restrictions, lack of funds, and a busy life outside of writing, those may not always be attainable, so do a little research closer to home. Some of my favorite retreats and seminars have been offered through Northern Colorado Writers at a very fair cost and are conveniently located. It also helps my sense of altruism to know I’m funneling my money into a local organization that turns around and helps other writers in my area.

Retreats tend to fall into two categories, those with classes/seminars and free-write time, and those with simply free-writing time, punctuated with social hours. You may wonder how effective three or four days, stuck in a lodge, with nothing but time spent writing can be as beneficial as say, a whole weekend of conference classes. Well, young writer, let me elaborate.

Classes, conferences and seminars are excellent resources for enhancing your writing and helping you learn technique as well as opening up your mind to the business side of things–just like I mentioned above. And, just like I mentioned above, they can’t write a book for you. Only you and time can do that. As a mother of two busy kids, with a couple of side gigs, and a whole household to run–I don’t always have time to write. Somedays I’m lucky to get 20 minutes in. So to have four days, uninterrupted by children, husbands, dogs, laundry, volunteering, teaching, or grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard work, just focused on my writing is priceless. I’ve finished novels in that time. I’ve written four months of blog posts and edited entire series. I’ve barreled through plot holes that I thought I could never find solutions to.

The truth is, when there’s nothing else to pull your procrastination strings, you can get some shit done. PLUS, its immensely helpful to be surrounded by other writers while they’re “in the zone”. There is an inexplicable energy that catches you up when you’re surrounded by other souls and brains focused on their art and passion. Plus there’s usually some socializing/decompression hours at the end of the day to give yourself respite.

Okay–that seemed like a lot of info and I don’t want to bore you to tears. Check out some of the ideas above this week for taking yourself back to school. When we invest in our writing, it becomes less the pipe dream, and more of an attainable goal. Good luck out there, writers. Keep me posted on your progress or if you’ve found some great retreats, classes, and resources yourself!

Guest Blog: Nina Naylor

Good morning! Today’s guest blog comes to us from the incomparable Nina (pronounced 9-uh) Naylor. She will be featured in the “Wilderness of Soul” anthology and I’m excited to share her work here with you. Nina has a beautiful approach to the world, writing, and how we all feel as wordsmiths with regards to calling ourselves ‘real writers’.

Here’s a little bit about her:

Nina Naylor is a writer, poet, and essayist.  She wrote her first poem at age 8.  She is a member of Northern Colorado Writers and the Academy of American Poets.  She has had poems, essays and articles published in organizational publications.  


Nina was able to take early retirement and has been focusing on her writing dream.  She is currently working on a poetry book, a book of prayers, and a memoir.  

The subject of her first poem?  A dancing pig!

I spent the last few days fretting about driving down to Denver alone to visit my
granddaughter. The address existed in an area my mind at once equated being outside my
comfort zone. The various degrees of fear rampantly invaded my rational thinking, and my
inner critic flooded my brain with negative outcomes and reasons why I should not go. But this
cannot be the individual I confidently relate to when I envision that person inside me in its
truest form! That woman who embraces all things new and enterprising…who still wants to
experience the exhilaration of adventure – the kind that excites and awakens my soul, that
allows me to explore new cultural diversities in an unbiased demeanor…who wants to see the Divine Light that shines throughout!

This same consternation relates to my internal dance of viewing myself as a writer and
not. To move past the wishing stage and be vulnerable enough in sharing myself with the
world. My writing engulfs me – it lives in my soul and to lay myself open to ridicule, critiques
and rejection seemed incredulous.

Nevertheless, my adventurous soul still burns – aches to be released and my lifelong
dream to write and be published flourishes! Friends and family encouraged my writing
throughout the years, but not until I found the fortitude to believe in myself along with the
willingness of mind, body and spirit did my journey come to fruition. Last year at Christmastime
a dear friend rewarded me with the ultimate gift of support: a poetry book by another woman
who recently found the courage to share her soul along with my friend’s accompanying
sentiment “I’ve been fortunate to hear some of your poems and stories. Now, I want others to
experience the joy of reading them.”

Each year I choose a word to live by and this year my word comes from Debbie Z.
Almstedt’s book Zibu: The Power of Angelic Symbology . My word Rakumi means “clarity of
purpose
” and the accompanying affirmation is “I continue to gain clarity as I listen within
knowing the answers unfold with ease.
” To fully embrace the adventure and accept myself as a
writer opens opportunities each day by being willing to believe and surround myself with
positive motivations. This entails positive friendships, writers’ groups, reading the genre l like to​
write, and sending my work for consideration. I encourage you to seek out what truly fulfills
your soul.

Just so you know, I still can have doubts, but they don’t last. The night before I found
out two of my poems would in the anthology, I had thought to myself, “who am I to think I can
write?!” Believe in yourself…put yourself out there…be willing.

I like to write acrostic poetry and I will leave you with one using my word for this year.

R eceiving
A nswers and
K nowledge.
U nfolding
M yself
I ntentionally.

By the way – the outing with my granddaughter and her boyfriend in Denver? Joyous!!

Finding Sanctuary in Times of Change

Photo by Andrew Beatson on Pexels.com

Times of transition are like hurricanes. Confusing, loud, messy and intense. There is uncertainty and a sense of powerlessness that directly affects our peace and sanctuary. Some of us deal with the changes with decidedly more grace than others. Some are rocked off their foundations, never to be the same again.

The point is that no one is safe from change. And why the hell would you want to be?

Change is the great motivator. It is the one unequivocal trait of the progression of human life. Without it we are stagnant lumps. Change breeds invention and new ideas, it sparks, hopefully, encompassing understanding and empathy. Compassion even.

What happens though, when we have too much change? When we are in a constant state of upheaval. When everything in life is a transition?

It is proven that children who suffer chronic instability (experiencing transitions so often that instability becomes their norm) can suffer from toxic stress.  

Toxic stress increases the risks of several physical and social problems including but not limited to increased risk for cancer and diabetes, heart, lung, and liver disease, increased risk for smoking, drug abuse, suicide, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence and depression.

While a normal amount of stress can be good (it stimulates healthy growth, promotes resilience, and helps us to learn coping mechanisms), constant stress and insecurity in our lives actually causes the body great physical and psychological harm.

The effects are more pronounced in children but adults are not immune. Just ask the millions of people living with high blood pressure, depression, cardiac disease etc. We are in over our heads.

So how do we balance the change and transition? How do we grow and push our boundaries without breaking apart our safety net?

Balance seems a cop-out idea. Of course balance (*eye roll*). That’s like asking “how do I write a novel” and some smart ass saying “Just sit down and write”.

True…but too general. Writing, like balance, is not a one size fits all idea. What is balanced for me is way too much for someone else. One woman’s six, 50,000 word romances a year is another’s one 38,0000 word novel every seven.

How do we find our balance? How do we find the right amount of change? I think the answer lies in retaining sanctuary in our lives. Now I’m not talking humpy-backed bell swingers walled up inside the cathedral, sanctuary. I’m speaking of it on a more personal and sometimes mental level.

Are you safe in your own mind? Do you have a place to go, in your brain, where you can let go, remember to breathe, where your shoulders can drop away from your ears and you can feel at peace? Or is it all hell-fire and disaster, 24/7 from the moment you wake from stress-induced nightmares to the moment you’re knocking yourself out with Melatonin just to escape?

We all need peace. We all need change. How much of each is dependent on who you are.

One person may be content taking 15 credit hours, while raising a family of six and working part time for the PTA. Another may be perfectly happy chiming into an online forum on bee-keeping once a week and counting her reading in hours not minutes. One person may be at home living from a suitcase, jet-setting to all parts of the world for a story and a perspective never gleaned. Another may never leave their childhood hometown and yet still maintain contentment in the smaller world around them.

I’m not here to tell you how much change to accept. I’m here to tell you to accept some change. Pursue some change. But if you find that all you do is change, and you can’t recognize yourself or the people you love anymore, then it’s time to come back home.

Use that one word…what is it? Shoot, I’m not very good at this word, though I’m learning to let my lips form it’s simple monosyllabic music…it’s… NO. The word is NO. If you’re genteel you may even tack on a “Thank You” at the end.

NO is a great place to start. No I do not want to go to that party. No, I do not want to volunteer sixteen hours a week when I’m barely getting my chapters written. No I don’t have time to bake seventy-two cupcakes for the basket-weaving club…would you take a donation instead?

Conversely…don’t forget your YES button in the gleeful mania of refusing. Yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, it’s been too long! YES I would love to take a weekend class in basket weaving. YES, it would be an honor to help out for five hours a week. YES, I’ll go to Italy with you, tall-dark-and-handsome stranger…(*guffaw* still waiting for that one to come around).

You know you best. If you aren’t sleeping. if you’ve bitten your nails to the nubs and can feel the bonds of your family life deteriorating. If you’ve sacrificed what you’ve loved to do what you “should” for too long, then its time to take a long hard look at your hurricane and find a graceful exit from the storm.

If you’re still in a dead end job because you’re too afraid to throw caution to the winds of the hurricane blowing outside, do yourself and everyone who loves you a favor and chase that storm. Live a little for goodness sake. We only go get so much time! Don’t waste it wishing for something better, when you are perfectly capable of hunting down the something better and taking it back to your sanctuary.

Guest Blog: Liyona Cicone

Hello writers and readers! Today’s blog comes to us from a winning contributor of The Beautiful Stuff’s 2021 Poetry Anthology “Wilderness of Soul”.

Liyona considers herself an “average joe” kind of writer who likes to think about ordinary things and then write them down. Ever since she can remember, she has been rhyming words and creating lyric poems. During her college years, she took a more serious bent toward writing and started to post on her blog, The Life and Times of a Quirky Character (https://liyonadancer100.wordpress.com/category/writing-2/). Currently, she resides on the East Coast of the United States just north of the country’s capital. Liyona’s prose have been published in Visual Verse, Flora Fiction and Spillwords. You can also find her commenting and collaborating as a Barista at the Go Dog Go Cafe.

As you read through this journey of one writer’s process, I urge you to think about your own methods, style, obstacles, and ‘safe’ spaces for writing.

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

Hello everyone, my name is Liyona. I am so excited to be sharing a bit about myself and my writing journey.

I have always enjoyed writing and creating stories. From a young age, I scribbled down notes and stories about fantasy worlds and characters. As I grew older, I found writing to be a cathartic way to transmit my thoughts and feelings and continued to write but through poems and short prose pieces.

My favorite and ‘safe’ space is found in free form poetry where there is no rhyme or meter. In this form, I love to create rhythms and beats that are evident if you read the poem out loud.

Over the past year, I have been challenging myself to submit to online magazines and weekly prompts. This has been an amazing challenge that has pushed my writing to the next level. I find that by working to time frames and prompts I am required to be intentional about word choice and decisive in editing. Usually, I take time mull over a prompt and let it sit in my subconscious for a while. Then, I take only a few minutes to respond to a prompt or to create a new poem. This allows me to release every idea onto the page. From there, I will re-read/edit my work by reading the poem out loud.

The rhythm is very important to me; during this stage I will make changes based on beats and measure, almost like a song. I tend to release a poem and post it soon after it is written. This allows me to keep creating, keep moving forward and continue stretching my writing so that I am able to create new and more interesting pieces. I am very happy to be part of this poetry anthology. It is such a wonderful opportunity to share my work and meet fellow writers!

Ah, Buckle This…A Pantser’s Guide to Buckling Down and Plotting

They say we are divided, us wily writers. Those creative fluffs that let the words burn through them and damn the story arc consequences until the laborious editing process. Those starched-collar spreadsheet architects that engineer the life out of a story until it can be laid out like a mathematical equation. Two ends of a long spectrum encompassing how we all go about writing our stories.

Whether you’re on your first novel, your seventieth short story, or your tenth attempt at nailing flash fiction, we all have a style that suits our particular intelligence. When I use that word, intelligence, I’m not talking IQ scores or any other accepted standardized measure of smarts. I’m talking about the way we each learn and create. Some of us are spacialists. Some of us are naturalists. Some of us are mathematicians. Some of us are socialis–uh…well not ‘socialists’ in the negative way that gets a bad wrap these days…social butterflies? We all have strengths in different areas of “smarts”. (pssst–check out the cool infographic from blog.adioma.com–based on Mark Vital’s work. If you have an extra minute, look through it and see where your head’s at)

HOWEVER, each one of us–and I’m making this assumption because you’re reading a writing blog–are gifted with some level of literary intelligence. Storytelling. Weaving words. Building worlds with letters. So let’s start on that common ground and get to know why plotting out your story, no matter how fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-writer you are, will help free up brain space for better writing and save you a literal shit ton of time in editing.

I’m a pantser. I’ve always been that way. It’s a creative deluge in my brain on many days. Hundreds of thousands of words, hundreds of characters, plots galore. ALSO– at least six unfinished nearly full length novels, countless ‘story-starts’ as I call them, and plots that have fizzled simply because the fire burned itself out when it hit the cliff of not having a plan.

If you are on my side of the spectrum, how do we avoid the graveyard of fizzled projects, laying stagnant on our lap tops?

Well, we simply need to learn to buckle down.

OK, OK, COME BACK!

No one shuts off Billy Idol

Jesus, I’m not some pastor dad from a bad 80’s movie, trying to tell you to shut off the Billy Idol and get a real job.

I’m just saying, as we mature as writers we can still have fun, and be responsible (I feel like a More You Know, after school special moment coming on) to our stories and characters.

When I say buckle down, I’m thinking more in terms of a roller coaster. The buckles keep you secure while the ride still thrills and delights.

Here’s how I balance out my willy-nilly need to write untethered and the reader’s need to have structure (yes–reader’s need structure…what happens on the roller coaster is fun, but they don’t want to fall to their deaths on the first loop-d-loop)

  1. When you get your idea (character, plot, situation etc): Write the hell out of it. I always think of them as scenes. I imagine situations or characters that play out in my head and I just write without self-editing the movie in my head. this can be a couple of pages, up to even 10-15 pages of material. Once I feel, like this story/character has potential and I want to know more about them, that I want to invest book-length time and effort into them, I then…
A River Sleeps Through It.
  1. Create a loose story-line. Usually on an informal notebook page, turned sideways. Some people use graphics and spreadsheets. I know myself. If I started doing that it would turn into flashbacks of Anthropological Research Methods and my only C paper…ever… ew, statistics David. That would take all the joy from it for me. Like strapping into a roller coaster with seven belts and having the cart inch along at a safe three-mile-an-hour speed. Don’t fence me in, Excel.
  2. The story line doesn’t have to be crazy detailed. But it should have an act structure. Sure, I could dictate (*snicker* dic-tate) that it be a hard-line three act structure with appropriate crises and resolution points. But some stories require more, (rarely less). If you went through step one above, chances are you have a pretty good idea of at least the beginning and end. You know what your character wants and if they get it or not. The tricky bit is in the center and that brings us to this…
  3. Plotting is important because it will help you get through the doldrums of the middle, where most novels go to die. Having some definite ideas about how crisis points build, where and when they come to a head, and how your character changes afterwards will help you know what to write next to keep the story moving in the right direction. Within that outline, is still a great abundance of wiggle room, so don’t get caught up in specifics when you draft your outline.

Well, I think that that’s all I’m going to torture you with today. You might find, by starting with this simple diagram you feel more comfortable elaborating on it, adding plot points, character transition moments, and secondary or series arcs into it. Good luck out there, pantser. Buckle up, writers. It’s one hell of a ride.

Photo by Dana Cetojevic on Pexels.com

Poetry Guest Blog: Lauren Newman Lipp

Good morning, all. Today’s beautiful contribution comes to us from a tremendously talented, kind-hearted, and all-around stellar human being. I’ve known Lauren for over five years now and every single time I get to talk with her, she just makes me feel like the world is a better place to be in.

The poem below, as well as two other, equally moving pieces, will be featured in “Wilderness of Soul” later this year!

Here’s a little about her:

Lauren Newman Lipp is a typical millennial that loves Harry Potter, early 2000’s emo music, and writing passionate pieces that reflect everyday life and struggles. She’s been expressing herself through the written word since her favorite teacher, Ms. Cowdry, taught her how to write in Kindergarten. Since then, she’s explored many forms of writing and loves the mighty power a pen can hold (although she sometimes ditches the pen for a keyboard). She earned a Bachelor’s degree from CSU Fort Collins in English, and her claim to fame is writing an A paper only hours before it was due in class. She has read “Othello” more times than she can count and loves to discuss the many complexities of Iago’s character. She spent some time teaching Language Arts and trying to pass along her love for reading and writing to 6th graders. These days, Lauren spends her time trying to make her husband laugh, playing with and chasing her toddler, and working on a novel about werewolves.

And now, Ladies and Gents; the incomparable Ms. Lauren:

Glug-Glug Lullaby

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Staring into my pre-portioned glass of red wine,

5 ounces exactly,

I beg for a revelation to fall over top of me.

To crumble over my shoulders and open my eyes wider.

A light to burn out the dark.

But instead, 

I just feel my edges fuzz, and my insides warm

And I do realize something.

Only one thing:

That I could

Dump the rest of the bottle into my glass,

Indulging in the “glug-glug”

That plays while pouring

Too fast with no control, no remorse…

And then just sip away

Till my eyes grow heavier and my edges blur.

But the idea that I could, scares me

And brings me closer 

To the mother I don’t want.

I am also brought closer 

To  feeling empathy for her

Understanding, and now knowing 

How soothing

That “glug-glug” could sound

Inside my ringing ears.