Last week Bree talked about how plotting can help organize your thoughts into something you can run with, something that won’t leave you stuck with writer’s block as often as writing by the seat of your pants. I definitely think that’s true, but as a plotter I still get stuck an awful lot. I get stuck so often that when I went to LTUE last month and saw a class called “Obsessive Outlining” taught by M. A. Nichols in the program, I jumped at the chance to see what I could learn there.
I’m so glad I went.
Maybe it’s just because I’m an obsessive person when it comes to finding the right way to do things, but this class made so much sense to me! Before, I would plot as much as I thought I could, coming up with a basic outline and saying what had to happen where. I tried hard to get my thoughts in order before I started writing, but it never got me very far. I would write a story out to the end, wonder what was wrong, finally identify the problems, rewrite, make new problems, and start all over again, keeping only a little of what I had from the previous draft. So many words down the drain! But since Nichols started using this process, she says she’s had to cut out fewer and fewer words from her manuscripts, which sounds like a dream come true.
Do you ever sit down to write, only to find you can’t concentrate when there’s clutter around you? Do you then spend your writing time either cleaning that clutter or avoiding the problem entirely by retreating to social media or “research”?
Cleaning is the bane of my existence, so I’ve never been very good at keeping up with mess. In one of our first apartments, my husband and I basically lived out of our dryer, nearly every flat surface was considered fair game to put junk that didn’t have a spot, and there was a room that was filled with unorganized papers I would toss in when I passed by (don’t worry, I cringe thinking about it, too). And that was BEFORE I had kids. Now, even though I’ve gotten some of my bad cleaning habits under control, even when I get something put away it doesn’t stay put away for long.
But what does my hatred of cleaning have to do with writing? I’ve always known that the pressure to clean never eases up, and that taking care of the worst messes either comes before writing or gets worse. These two priorities clash in my life every single day. I’m constantly trying to come up with a way to keep a clean house and write, but it always feels impossible. Then I bought a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
Mothers are some of the most powerful people on the planet. They carry children within their own bodies for nine months and bring them into the world. They receive children they didn’t conceive into their homes and hearts with just as much love. They sacrifice. They teach by word and example, greatly influencing those in their care.
But mothers don’t often take a significant role in fiction. They sit on the sidelines, cheering on their children, and that’s only if they’re present in the first place. It’s as though society believes that once one becomes a parent they can no longer have adventures of their own, and no end goal to achieve. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Beyond Instinct is a collection of five short stories that show how mothers still have lessons to learn and stories to tell.
Each of the authors in the anthology included aspects they have seen in mothers in their own lives, or have experienced themselves. Read their responses below!
It’s November, everybody! This is one of my favorite months of all time. There’s plenty of candy leftover from Halloween, fall is in full swing, and Thanksgiving promises a whole day full of delicious food, warmth, and fun. In my family, while we’re all too full to get up, we have a tradition where we go around the table and take turns talking about what we’re grateful for.
For the longest time, I considered myself a hopeful hobby writer. This year, though, I’ve claimed writing as my official career! When people ask me if I have a job, I say, “Yes! I’m an author,” and I don’t feel like an imposter. I’m finally on the road to becoming the sort of writer I’ve wanted to be for as long as I can remember, and now there are so many more things to be grateful for! This month I want to talk about a few of those things. Beyond that, I want to encourage you to think about things that you’re grateful for. I hope you enjoy this list!:
So much of writing is done alone. Our ideas are inside our minds, and we sit in front of a computer or over a notebook by ourselves, typing or writing those ideas into words. Even if we prefer to write in a coffee shop or at the library, surrounded by other people, we are often too focused to be a part of things (if we’re really writing).
Our work is easily kept to ourselves. A lot of the time, we want it to be that way. Our writing is commonly referred to as the blood from our veins put on the page. But, if we want to make our stories into something spectacular, we have to share them. But we do, don’t we? We share them with our mothers and our closest friends, and they love them. Isn’t that enough? The problem with that is, in most cases, mothers and close friends love us more than they know what might need fixing and how to suggest it, so they praise us—sincerely—telling us how proud they are and how wonderful our work is. But no query was ever made more successful with such narrow references.
No matter how much we love our work, there will always be something wrong with it. Even in published works we can find typos and other things that have been missed from revision to revision, edit to edit, and proofread to proofread, so we can be certain that we all need extra pairs of eyes on our manuscripts. But with extra eyes will come feedback, both good and bad.
It’s so important to be open to these critiques! In my own life, I’ve noticed that when someone is stubborn or defiant about their work, they always miss something important they could have learned from comments. Even when the commenter is completely wrong, we shouldn’t brush it off as soon as we hear it. But more on that later.
If you’ve ever been to a writing conference, you’ve likely heard questions about how majority writers can accurately portray underrepresented demographics. Writers often hear about how so many books are dominated by white heterosexual characters, and many want to include other types of people, sensitively, into their stories. They want to be the solution to the scarcity.
This is a wonderful desire to have, and we should definitely include accurate representations of all sorts of people in our work. However, there’s a fine line between being inclusive and trying to tell a story we don’t understand and can’t accurately portray (or shouldn’t try to, even if we feel we can). No matter how good our intentions are, there are stories that would be better told by someone who knows more about it—who is closer to it.
Writing is amazing! There is nothing quite like piecing together details and stringing them into a successful story that draws readers in. Writing is such a wonderful way to hone creativity and add beauty and understanding to the world. I LOVE to write! And most of the time, I feel like I’m pretty good at it. It can be hard for me to get started, but I love the times when I get lost in my work.
Unfortunately, I am also very, VERY insecure, both about myself and my writing.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the LDStorymakers Conference held in Provo, Utah. I would definitely label it as the best writers’ conference I’ve been to thus far, and I was not disappointed by my third year attending in the least. They do feed their attendees, which I love, but more than that, I appreciate how their classes are always so well prepared and relevant to my needs as a writer.
While I was at Storymakers, I took a class from Amanda Rawnson Hill (author of “The Three Rules of Everyday Magic”), who taught us her secret weapon for going from 28 drafts of a manuscript before publishing, to only 4. This secret weapon is starting with a theme in mind and threading that theme through your story. If this is done from the very first draft, it is so much easier to bring the story together in each subsequent revision.
Have you ever wondered what exactly defines the audience of a story? I had never thought about it much before, and it didn’t really matter to me where a book fit, or where my stories fit, so long as people want to read them. But after attending J. Scott Savage’s “YA vs Middle Grade” class, which was my favorite at Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE) this year, I decided that it IS important to know these things, especially while your’e working on a story of your own. There are a lot of publishers who will take a manuscript that needs tweaking in order to fit the audience they’re looking for, but so much time and effort can be saved for both publisher and author by knowing what you’re writing in order to have your story easily categorized right from the beginning.
How can you identify who the intended audience is? You may be thinking that it has something to do with the content of the book — perhaps with violent content, the age of the main characters, the depth of the romance, or the reading level of the vocabulary in the writing. But violence can be glossed over, as well as romance, ages can be changed or omitted, and the words an author uses can be made more complicated or simplistic through editing. These things are definitely considered by publishers, but they are things that aren’t essential to the story; these are things that are more easily changed before publication, and aren’t what really defines intended audience.
For some of us, writing is a breeze. Our plots practically create themselves, and our characters come to us with clear motivations all on their own. Then after that, the story flows effortlessly onto the page. Frankly, I’m not in that category of writers, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us aren’t. Writing is a hobby, a job, or a passion for each of us, and at some point it’s going to be a struggle.
There are so many ways to get stuck while writing. What can you do if it happens to you? It can be so hard to push through these points, when our ideas stagnate and we can start to feel a loss of our original infatuation with the project. Too often we try to solve our story problems by staring them in the face, hoping if we push against the wall long enough it will eventually turn into a door. But sometimes, it’s better to try a more roundabout approach, looking for solutions in places that aren’t so direct. One of the places we can find those solutions is in our characters. The stronger our characters are, the more they can help us get unstuck in our writing and move forward.
It might not make sense at first to think that having stronger characters can mend a myriad of issues, but let’s look into it a bit: If your character is too flat, they won’t do much for your story, and they might end up being the reason you get stuck a lot of the time. On the other hand, the more you learn and know about your character, they can push many parts of the story forward and give you a solid plot, as well as illuminate information you may not have known you were missing, like setting details or realistic interactions.
So, now that we’re thinking about how knowing our characters better can improve even things that don’t seem to have anything to do with them, how can we get to know them well enough for them to help us out? You can always start by taking personality tests for them on Facebook, but those will only get you so far. You have to dig deeper!
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.