Writing

Losing Steam? It’s Okay. You Can Still #WriteLikeCrazy

Hi, Eveyone.  We are halfway through August, and I am noticing folks dropping out of #writelikecrazy.  Activity on the hashtag is slowing down.  I am not recieving as many cool photos of your workspaces.  The purpose of this post is to help you get back on board because we still have a lot of month left.

One question to ask yourself is whether you have set reasonable goals for yourself.  Remember, this is not NaNoWriMo.  We are not trying to cough up a whole book in a month.  We are just here to try and figure out some sustainable habits and jump start ourselves.  If you started this month like a crash diet, it’s no wonder that you have burned out.  But here is a great way that #WLC is better than a crash diet.  When you fall off the diet wagon, you just gain the weight back.  With #WLC, the progress you made in the early days is yours forever.  You can start again anything and move forward.

So rethink your goals.  Has school started for you, or your kids?  Are you going on vacation?  Factor that in and set a goal that you can read.  Can you do a page a day?  Maybe thirty minutes on the timer.  Give up watching Law & Order on Netflix and five that 42 minutes to your manuscript. As they say– A year from now, you will wish you had started today.

Are you second guessing yourself in general?  Are you worried that what you’re writing isn’t good enough?  May I offer this tweet from Anne Lamott whose wonderful book “Bird By Bird” really gets my engine running:

To be fair, sure a famous writer like Anne Lamott is coming from a different place than most of us– afterall, she is, apparently in bed while you might be at work.  But there is still wisdom in what she says.  Write.  Even if it’s bad.  If it’s bad, you can fix it.  But you can’t fix it until you’re written it.  Write that shitty first draft.  Don’t be mean to yourself.  Don’t tell yourself that it’s not good enough, or that you’re not good enough.

You can do this.  Really, you can.  Try again.

 

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Putting Together Your Critique Team #WRITELIKECRAZY

Team Spirit, December 2006(This is a reprint of a post I did last year for my SheWrites Column, Surviving The Draft.)

So you’ve just gotten through with your manuscript.  You know I know  it’s not a beautiful work of art yet, but you’ve done all I can do by yourself. It’s now time to bring in the first team of readers. Here’s how I picked my readers, I call them Team T.

  • Everyone on the team must be someone I trust. By trust, I mean that they all much be someone who I believe wants me to write a better book. No one on the team can be weird or competitive with me. They are all folks who will approach the manuscript with an open heart, with nothing to prove.  This can be a little tricky because there are people that you like just fine, but don’t really trust that want to read the manuscript.  You have to tell them no—even if they will hear on the grapevine that other people are reading the book.  (Although this is not the most mature approach, I keep kicking the request down the road. Eventually the manuscript will be in a position that you can share more widely, so I just keep putting the person off until then.)
  • The team must be diverse. There is no point having a bunch of people just like me vet the manuscript. I need people who bring different strengths to the table. One person should be talented with plot, another should be a language freak. Someone who knows from experience the world I am writing about, and someone else who doesn’t. You get the idea.
  • They should be writers. This is really just so that they will have the language to help me improve. Talking about a manuscript in progress with someone who is not a writer can make me feel like a mechanic listening to a customer make weird noises to tell me what is wrong with the car. Also, something like a point of view problem is easily diagnosed by another writer, while someone else will be disconcerted by the chapter and may not be able to say why.
  • If there is any inkling that I may be using the manuscript to win the person’s approval, they can’t be on the list. This goes back to the idea that it has to be all about the work at this stage. For most people (me included) this takes family off the list. I have always said how much my early work benefited from the fact that no one in my family thought I was really going to be a novelist. If I had looked at my writing as a way to get that parental pat on the head, it would have warped my creative impulse.
  • They must be brilliant. The reasoning is obvious. I have to say that I am so lucky to have so many smart people in my life.

 

And as a bonus, a little writerly etiquette—

  • Make sure you have done all you can before passing it on. Your readers are to help you do what you couldn’t do all by yourself.
  • You should pay for postage, printing, whatever. For someone to read and critique your manuscript at all is enough of a gift. Don’t eat up your friend’s ink cartridges.
  • Send a little thank you gift or a card whether your friend liked the book or not.
  • When the book is published, remember those friends in your achnowledgements. (And yes, your book WILL be published.  I have faith in you!)
  • When the times comes, return the favor and give your friend the same time and care she gave you.

 

 

And of course, it’s now over to you SheWriters. Do you have a critique team? How did you put the team together?

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A Healing: A #WRITELIKECRAZY guest post from Remica Bingham

I was looking through the archives of this blog looking for posts that would be inspiring to us as we #WRITELIKECRAZY and I stumbled upon this peace by Remica Bingham.  I know that one fear that can keep a lot of us from writing our story is fear of alienating our family.  In this post, Remica writes about how her parents came together to design the cover of her first book.

A Healing by Remica Bingham

It’s a strange thing to find your father where you never thought he would be. So when I found my father pouring through the rows of poetry on my bookshelves I was a bit taken aback. He wasn’t reading any poems, just looking at spines and covers, examining each book, its texture, style. This was July 2006, after I found out I’d won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award and that my book, Conversion, would be published, in a matter of months, by Lotus Press.

When Lotus Press asked me if I had any input as to what I’d like to see on the cover of the book, I knew this was the right press at the right time. I told them my father was an artist and that I’d like him to do the cover art. Not only were they agreeable, but they seemed fond of the idea as well, without even knowing our story. I suppose they had read the book, though, since they’d chosen it for their book prize, and did get to glimpse into our past. My father takes a bit of a thrashing (as do many others—myself included) in the book. I tell so much about the dark times in his life, in our lives. My father and mother divorced when I was twelve and remarried when I was twenty. After many years of turmoil and distance, they found their way back to each other, older, wiser and more open to the possibility of happiness, of trust.

When I asked my father if he would paint something for the cover of my book, he was a bit reluctant. He’s so humble and protective of me. I could see his worry already dawning. Eventually, he would say ‘yes’, but it would have to be perfect. He set a lofty goal for himself, especially with such a close deadline (we had less than two months to get the painting to the press), but he was on board. I must admit, I was nervous, too. I wasn’t concerned at all with his skill (I still keep the portraits he painted for me when I was a child), but I had no idea what I wanted, and therefore, couldn’t give him any instructions, not even a slight lead.

Sometime in July, after I’d caught him ravaging my shelves for ideas, my father and I went to Sunday breakfast (a weekly tradition) and I told him about a dream I’d had the night before. I saw a woman’s face and colors, lots of bright colors. I had no idea what it meant or if it meant anything at all. I must have sparked something for my father though, as he’d been reading and re-reading my book and said the dream was all the inspiration he needed. It all fit together for him somehow, and the cover was born.

I never dreamt my first book would turn out better than I’d let myself imagine. It is pure color in a sea of green. The eyes I dreamt of are there and the textured sun. People are standing in praise, every bit the Conversion I’d hoped for. My mother, father and I went out to celebrate after he’d put the finishing touches on the painting and my father and I talked endlessly about the book’s set up, where his name would go, whose blurb I was still waiting on. We went on so long that my mother finally interrupted us and asked, “Well, what am I going to get to do?”

My mother is my biggest supporter, she was a single-parent for so long, I think she felt a bit left out, and rightfully so. This book was the first real project my father and I had worked on since he painted my peacock mask for animal day in the fourth grade, so we’d begun to exclude everyone else, even her, from the conversation. But her question stopped us in our tracks. “The picture!”, I replied, “Mom, will you take my picture for the cover? Then all of our names will be there.”

And she did and they are.

Lotus Press and the cover designer, Leisia Duskin, did such a great job with the book that we couldn’t help but marvel at out work, all of our singular efforts becoming one, when we finally got the book in our hands.

When I hung outwith Tayari in February 2007, the book had just come out and had made its way to the shelves of Busboys and Poets—a trendy hot spot in Washington, D.C. When we all went over to peruse the shelves, Tayari asked me about the book, the cover, the author photo, the press. When I told her my Dad painted the cover and my Mom took the photo on the back, her immediate reaction was, “You have to write about this for my blog. People would like to hear that story.”

I’d never thought about it that way, as something that would make any kind of difference to perfect strangers. I am just beginning to understand her interest now, as I’m writing this. That’s the true power of words and why so many of us make the continual trek to the page: we go there for a healing. That’s what I find looking back at the miracle that became my book, the story of my parents and I. There such forgiveness in the story—we all forgave each other for past mistakes, for anger and distrust. The poems, the photo, the cover, all of it was a healing for us, a welcome home.

2007

visit www.remicabingham.com

PS Her new collection of Poetry, What We Ask of Flesh is availble for pre-order.

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Don’t Go Showing Your New Work to Just Anybody. #WRITELIKECRAZY

Tayari and Allison

Allison and me when I won the USA Grant

I’ve been #WRITINGLIKECRAZY for a couple of weeks and I have to tell you, I am excited about what I am working on. The project is getting to the place where it is sprouting little green leaves all by itself. And Eddie Levert said in that famous song, “I wanna scream! I wanna shout! And tell the world about it…” But I have learned to check this impulse. Be careful who you show your early work to.

Negative or complicated feedback is probably the best way to get a nasty case of writer’s block. Sure, we all need to get input from someone who doesn’t live inside our heads, but the question is when to seek that input and from whom.

This is not a post about how to avoid the “haters.”  (I would actually be in favor of a petition to remove that word from the lexicon.)  I know that you have better sense than to give your manuscript to someone who isn’t a friend, or someone whom you don’t respect.  What you may do, however, is show the work to soon or hand it to someone who doesn’t know how to read an early draft.

I once asked my friend, Nichelle Tramble, to read a draft and she agreed, but before I sent it, she asked: What do you need? Cheerleading, encouragement, detailed critique? Where are you at with this?  This was the perfect question and I took a long time to answer.  Make sure you ask yourself this question.

Often times emerging writers will say to me, “Kick my butt.  Don’t go easy on me.”  I usually interpret this to me “I’m scared. I hope it’s good.  I want to make it better.”  (Just for the record, as a teacher, I am not in the butt-kicking business.)  Usually if someone has paid to take a class, they want some detailed critique and I am happy to provide that.

But if I am in an early draft stage, I don’t want any detailed critique.  I want encouragement to help me maintain the momentum to make it to the finish line.  You have to understand that there are going to be some people in your life– people who LOVE you– who just don’t know how to be cheerleaders.  They do not own pompoms, only red pens.  And these red-penners will ask to see your manuscript, but you have to tell them no. These people think they are showing how useful they are by telling you what wrong with your piece.  This is what they think you need and they want to help.  Bless their sweet hearts.  Lie if you have to, but do not let these (otherwise wonderful) people anywhere NEAR your manuscript.  You can give it to them when it’s done and they can use their red pens to help you clean it up before you send it to an editor or agent.

You know who your cheerleaders are.  They tend to be happy go lucky types who encourage you in all kinds of random crazy stuff your heart decides it needs to do.  This would be the friend who encouraged you to take that ridiculous trip to Paris.  It will be the same person who told you that dating that drummer would be an experience and you should go for it.  That time you were crying after you colored your hair red?  She was the one who told you about the time she accidently colored her and it turned out magenta.  She’s your girl.  Give her the manuscript. She’ll read it on her e-reader while she’s on her way to Vegas.

My person like this is my good friend, Allison.  I will ofted read the day’s work to her aloud, stumbling over typos and rearranging funky sentences as I go.  When I talk to her, I can hear her clapping her hands on the other end, even if she’s driving.  “Cooter Brown! I haven’t heard anybody say that in years!” Or, “Poor Roy. He’s just trying to get his constitution together.” My favorite encouragement is, “Hurry up and finish. I want to know what happens!”   (See that picture on the left?That’s Allison and me in Chicago in 2008. I had just won a grant from the USA Foundation.  You can see her bright spirit in her smile.  Her bright spirit and a lot of fine champagne!) At this stage in the project, she’s the one I need.

There’s plenty of time for redpenners later.

 

 

 

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Take a Break From The Industry and #WRITELIKECRAZY

“What are publishers looking for?”  This is a question that I am often asked by emerging writers.  My question back to them is– “What would you do with that information if I told you?”  Would you write a book to match what you think “they” want?  Would you just feel terrible because what you’re writing doesn’t match what “they” are looking for?  In truth, I have no idea what publishers are looking for and I don’t really care becauase it has nothing to do with me, or with you.

You see, I have to say what I have to say, whether it gets published or not.  I got myself completely blocked when I was writing Silver Sparrow because I feared that publishers didn’t want it.  I almost let it wither on the vine because I was all tangled up in industry this, and industry that.  I don’t feel like going into it, but you can read about it here.)  Short version: what you know is your own heart and mind.  And as they say: write what you know.

For August, let’s agree to take a little vacation from industry news.  You don’t need to know what kind of deals other people are getting.  Don’t look to see who gets reviewed in the New York Times.  Doing a demographic round up of whatever award is recently announced is just going to spin you out.  And being spun out is not going to help you finish your project.

When we started this month, the plan was to be eager and enthusiastic about our work.  I must tell you that I have never heard one morsel of industry news that has made me feel excited about sitting down to write.  Furthermore, all the industry news in the world is irrelevant if your manuscript is still a half finished stack of papers on your desk.

Truth:  The journey is hard.  For everybody.  I know that some people make it seem easy, but that’s a performance.  It’s intense.  For everybody.

And here’s another truth:  All of us who write– no matter where we are in our career have something in common– we must write the next book.  Yes, you can spend a lot of time thinking about how it’s easier for some people.  And it is. And it’s hard.  And you still have to do it.

I’ve seen the VIDA numbers and I know that it’s rough out here if you’re not an straight, white, male.  (And I know it’s rough out here for many of them, too.)  But that roughness is not limited to publishing.  It’s true for life, yet you manage to get out of bed this morning.  You find joy in your life.  You experience passion.  And you will do the same with your writing.  Do it anyway.  And do with enthusiasm and do it well.

You got this. And we got you.

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Five Sexy Links #WRITELIKECRAZY

So, it seems that I am not the only one struggling with writing about s-e-x.  Here are some links that might help.

  • Steve Almond tells  How to Write A Sex Scene. “Therefore, in the interest of preventing more bad sex writing from entering the  cultural jet stream, I am officially setting out my 12-Step Program for  Writing Incredibly Hot Scenes.”
  • Were these sex scenes written by a man or a woman?
  • The Joy of Writing Sex is a great how-to guide. You know she had me when she used Toni Morrison has an example of a really sexy writer.
  • Writing about sex for YA audiences. “The considerations of how to deal with the (touchy, sticky – insert pun of choice here) topic of sex in such a way that is appropriate for readers of varying levels of maturity can seem extremely complex. Add to that the worry about censorship, people accusing us of corrupting their kids, the issue of portraying responsible sex, etc. “
  • In the spirit of no inhibitions, here are 25 Tips for Writing About Sex. “Do not watch [porn] for inspiration..because porn is to sex what McDonald’s is to food.

 

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Does This Count? Yes it does. #WRITELIKECRAZY

To-Do ListI am so happy that so many folks are doing #WRITELIKECRAZY for the month of August.  If you have pictures to share or testimony, you can leave a comment here or you can bop over to my fb page and leave your message there. (I love the pictures of your writing spaces!)

We’re just a couple days in, but I have been gettin questions from folks who want to participate.  Many people tell me what they’re doing and they want to know if it “counts” toward #WLC.  My basic rule of thumb is that if it helps you finish what you’re doing, it’s legit.  But here’s an incomplete list of what you can spend the month of August doing and consider yourself Writing Like Crazy:

 

 

  • Reasearch (but be sure to make specific and concrete goals)
  • Generating new pages
  • Revising existing work
  • Outlining
  • Poetry (of course!)
  • Reading to “fill the well”
  • Morning Pages
  • Random Writing Exercises
  • Letter Writing
  • 30 in 30
  • Academic Writing
  • Proposals

What did I miss?

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How was your first day? #WRITELIKECRAZY

Change the World, Obama. | Nobel Prize for Peace versionYesterday, my #WRITELIKECRAZY got started with a challenge. I am a morning writer.  I am a morning person in general, but I am not a crazy morning person.  I don’t wake up at 4:30 am and watch the sunrise.  I wake naturally around six, and putter til seven and then I work.  I sometimes see the sun rise, but I don’t watch it.  You know what I mean?  And to be such an early bird, I tend to go to bed early.  I like a good solid eight hours of shut eye.  Nine if I can get it.

So last night as I was preparing for #WLC, I got a call from my friend, Lisa.  “Hey Girl! I’m in town.”  Now, I love Lisa. Adore her.  And I never get to see her, and here she was in NYC.  We were to connect at 8:30, but then her meeting ran late.  As the hour approached 9:30, I had to sadly tell her I would take a raincheck.  Afterall, I had a meeting with my writing at 6am.

You see, when you are a morning writer, you have to say goodbye to nightlife.  It’s hard to accept that you can’t do everything.  For years I tried to be a superwoman– I could work my full time job, keep a clean house, get my social butterfly on, workout four times a week, etc, and write.  But the truth of the matter of that something has to be sacrificed.  Far too often it was the writing.  But not this month.

At 5:30 am, I had my feet on the floor.  (Thank goodness I set the coffee pot before I went to bed!)  I got my two hours in.  It was rough at first.  My writing bones were creaky like grandmama’s knees.  But I remember my grandmother used to warm up her achy joints in the morning and by mid day, she would be moving just fine.

I spent the first 30 minutes or so looking over what I had already written.  It was like seeing an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while.  You know each other, but you have to catch up to get the rhythm on your relationship right again.  But like the best friendships, this only took a few minutes and me and my manuscript picked up where we left off.  I wrote about four pages, give or take.  I feel good about them and I feel good about myself.

So how was your first day? Did you make your goal?  If you didn’t, it’s okay.  You’re warming up.  Try again tomorrow.  If you haven’t written in a while, it may take you a minute to get your rhythm.  Be patient with yourself.  If you write today  than you did yesterday, give yourself credit.  If you write more today than you did all last month, then give yourself even more.

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Ready. Set. #WRITELIKECRAZY. Do you know what works for you?

Part of #WRITELIKECRAZY is to learn what your process is, and honor that process.  Once reason why I don’t get obsessed with word count is because that’s not how my writing brain works.  I don’t like deadlines. I don’t like pressure.  For me, the pleasure of writing is that I’m doing my own thing my way without having to accountable to any bean counter at the end of the day.  So my goal for #WRITELIKECRAZY is going to be to spend two solid hours a day writing.

I have written under deadline, and I will admit that I did get the work done, but I didn’t enjoy it.  I know that writer like to say that “writing is my work.”  And I will be first to say that it is hard work, in that it takes a lot of effort, but I don’t think of it as my job.  Maybe it’s because the job doesn’t sound like joy to me, doesn’t sound like the luxury of self expression.

I know that there are people out there who haven’t quite figured out how you write best.  For you, I would recommend trying to spend this first week figuring out what makes you feel best at the end of the day.  Try a word count goal and see if that works for you.  Did you find yourself banging out nonsense pages just to meet the goal?  Or did you accomlish something meaningful.  The next day, try using the timer.  You can also set revision goals.  Promise to revise a short story over the course of the month.  Or set daily revision goals.

Remember, the point of this is to leave you feeling good about yourself and your work.  I want us all to be eager and energized and ready to write the next draft.  This is not like a crash diet where we starve ourselves to fit into a slinky party dress.  This is about enbracing what we do, how we do it– and to actually do it.  To write. To think about writing.  To talk about writing.  To express.

Me,  I’m using the timer method.  Two hours.  I know that doesn’t seem like much, but you would be surprised what you can accomplish with 120 minutes.

When I say accomplish, maybe it will be an awesome work count, which I can report the next day.  But the two hours may be what I need to figure something out that’s been hanging up the story. And I know there will be days where two hours just isn’t enough, where the getting is good and I just need to write for another two hours.

The photo you see here is my ladybug timer. (Isn’t she cute.  She reminds me to play a little.)  If you hear ticking, that’s the sound of my first hour starting. Ready. Set. #WRITELIKECRAZY.

 

And tell me, what’s your plan?

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#WRITELIKECRAZY Make a plan

Right Brain Planning {elements}If you’re participating in #WRITELIKECRAZY, (like my fb page to be included) try and think of what you want to accomplish and how much of it you can accomplish in a month.  Do not overreach and set yourself up for disappointment.  The goal of this whole project is to leave you jazzed for what you will do next, not to leave you exhausted and feeling like a failure.  We are in this to feel good about ourselves and our writing. I know that there are people who feel like you need a “boot camp” or “tough love”, but for me, the only boots I like are made of Italian leather and I prefer the healing, gentle kind of love.

Now is the time to decided what it is in your writing life that needs doing.  I will tell you that I am not a page count freak.  As a matter of fact, I HATE NaNoWriMo.  (Here’s my essay NaNo Hell No.)  I usually give myself goals of how much time I spend trying.  I figure I cannot control how fast the words come (or not).  But I can control how much time I feel trying and if I have spent the day honestly doing my best, then that is a good day, regardless of outcome.  And, for me, this usually works.  All the days aren’t great days, but the absence of pressure frees me up and allows me to love my process.

But that said, I know counting words or pages works for some people.  So figure out what works for you.

If you are doing a historial project maybe you want to spend the month researching? Or maybe a combo-platter– some researching and some writing.  Just figure out a way to measure your goals.

And last but not least: prepare your space.  I’m scrambling to get my writing room together.  I am still in cardboard from my move from Cambridge more than a month ago.  But come tomorrow morning, I will be ready.  I hope you will be ready too.

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