Friday Links

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TGIF! We’re winding down the month of May, and per usual, I’m not sure quite where time is flying. Did you set any goals for your month? If so, I hope you nailed them. If not, maybe take a moment this weekend to decide what you want to accomplish with your writing in June. Sometimes a mini goal can be a great way to spur yourself on and enhance your productivity, or even come up with a wonderful new idea. A month-long goal needn’t be anything as ambitious as drafting a 50,000-word novel, though of course if that’s what gets you in front of your keyboard, I say go for it!

But first, of course, I bring you this week’s links. They involve quite a few different writerly points of view, and I hope you find them interesting and inspirational. Whatever you’re up to this weekend, good luck with your writing and/or reading. Enjoy!

Shadowing Jason Matthews, the Ex-Spy Whose Cover Identity Is Author – What writing is like for a former CIA agent who has turned novelist.

Books About Women Don’t Win Big Awards: Some Data – A blog post from author Nicola Griffith where she assembles a few depressing statistics.

Horror Stories Are Love Stories – An interview with author Kelly Link.

Writers Read – A wonderful blog where each post features an author talking about what they’ve been reading lately.

Christine Schutt’s First Time – Another in The Paris Review series, and wonderful in the way it illustrates how much time and persistence it can take to achieve your writing goals.

Miscellaneous Words of Wisdom

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This is less of a formal post and more me throwing a few quick things at you all. First off, I did an Agent Q&A over at Book Country and it is up today, if you want to check that out. It’s part of an ongoing series, so be sure to browse around while you’re there, as each agent participating has their own set of questions they answered and there’s lots of good information floating around.

Second, I mentioned The Paris Review is doing a new series of short video interviews with authors where they discuss their “first time” experiences. They’ve only posted a couple so far, but today’s struck me as particularly meaningful, whatever your creative process, as I think it really underscores how important persistence is when you’re trying to make progress in your chosen field.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you all had a great week and are gearing up for some weekend fun, especially here in the U.S., where today kicks off the Memorial Day weekend and marks the unofficial start of summer.

Now, summer’s arrival with all of its various entertainments and distractions is no excuse for slacking. Rather, take advantage of those longer days and clear summer nights to find a quiet corner to plot you next book or work on your current project. Writing is a year-round endeavor, so while it’s great to take a bit of time for a BBQ or pool party or family vacation, make sure to schedule in your writing time around those new diversions.

Of course, summer is prime reading time as well, so along with quality writing efforts, I wish you some wonderful literary finds that inspire and entertain. There might just be a few to check out in this week’s links. But whatever your plans for this weekend, I wish you good reading and writing. Enjoy!

17 of the Best Books of Summer – The first of what I’m sure will be many lists of recommended summer reads.

Diversity in YA: You’ve Got Mail, Young Writer – On the importance of inspiring the future generation of writers and giving them a reason to believe they can be writers, too.

The Big Idea: Naomi Novik – The author talks about the role of memories, faulty and otherwise, in writing her latest book.

Diary of a First-Time Book Tour – Entertaining anecdotes and lessons from the road.

A New Series from The Paris Review 

Friday Links

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TGIF! We’re having a rainy end to the week here in SoCal, for which I’m truly grateful. Not that I think it made much of a dent in the drought conditions, but there was a genuine downpour for a change last night and every bit helps. It’s also put me in the mind for a reading weekend, which is excellent, since I have a pile of manuscripts looking at me.

But first, links! I’ve got some meaty reading material for you this week, which also seems appropriate given my mindset, but also some great writing opportunities for you to check out. I hope you’re inspired to spend some quality time with a good book and to give a solid chunk of your weekend to your current writing project or maybe start something new. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Oxford’s Influential Inklings – An interesting look at the impact of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and their cohorts.

James Patterson Teaches Writing – An at-your-own-pace online writing class with the prolific thriller writer. Not just for aspiring thriller/mystery writers.

Publication Opportunities for Writers: June and July, 2015 – A round up of places to submit your work.

Lynda Barry: ‘What Is an Image? That Question Has Directed My Entire Life’ – On drawing and storytelling.

The Real World vs. the MFA – An interesting look at the various paths to developing one’s craft from a writer who has combined a number of routes.

On Priming the Creative Pump

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Discussions of creativity, and writing in particular, seem to spawn water-related metaphors. We talk about drowning in ideas, about creative flow, about priming the pump or filling the well. There’s a certain primal logic to it. As water is the most basic necessity of life, a foundation, so are ideas the starting point for creative endeavors. You need other things to survive, but without this primary substance, you will never make it. But how do you keep your creativity from drying up?

Maintaining a healthy creative flow is not the same thing as tackling a bout of writer’s block, though the two things can overlap. Writer’s block, as I posted previously, comes in fits and starts, when you’re unsure where to take your story next or you’re having a difficult time getting a new project underway. But your overall creative health is an ongoing concern and it affects how you function as a writer on a daily basis.

Ideas tend to birth more ideas. Writers develop their own systems for generating ideas over time, looking at mundane circumstances from fresh angles, questioning how things came to be, or wondering how a scenario might have played out if a few key constants were altered. Allowing the imagination to roam freely can lead to more story sparks than a writer knows what to do with. And that’s fine, because not every idea has the chops to continue on to full-blown story-hood.

But even the most bizarre idea that pops into your head comes from somewhere. It might not be obvious to your conscious mind, but somewhere deep inside your brain, something you’ve seen or heard or smelled or remembered helped to formulate that idea. You are always going to be the sum of your experiences, which serve as raw material for your imagination to mix and splice and kneed into new ideas. And while even a limited number of memories can generate a nearly endless supply of new ideas, you can always help that process by taking the time to add new experiences to your stockpile.

Author Nova Ren Suma recently blogged about the importance of taking time after she’s finished writing a book to refill her own personal well. There’s a sort of depletion she experiences following a large project that has required all her creative attention, and she must energize again to tackle whatever is next on her to-do list. As with a runner completing a marathon, an author completing a novel needs to rehydrate. But even the daily workouts needed to develop a running habit or keep in shape require some refueling when you’re done.

So what can writers do to keep their creative energy and ideas flowing? The obvious answer is to read, because all writers must read constantly, their own genre, other genres, poetry, short stories, nonfiction. Writers read to see what they like, to understand what works and what doesn’t work, to know what is being published today, and to realize what has come before. But beyond that, the answer is to get out and really live life. Walk away from the desk, give your brain a break, and experience something for yourself.

It’s tempting, in today’s busy world, to devote all your free time to writing, especially for writers who have day jobs and families and other responsibilities vying for their attention. And of course, the writer’s life outside of writing qualifies as experiencing the real world. A strange day at work, your child’s funny comment, the way the dishwasher has started to shake — it’s all grist for the mill. But every once in a while, it’s important to make a conscious decision to find something that will inspire you and remind you why you want to write. Go for a hike and allow yourself to be amazed by the natural world around you. Visit a museum and stare at a couple of masterpieces. Hit up a science center and play with the exhibits meant for kids. Go to the symphony, or curl up with your headphones and listen to some jazz or classical music or a film score — something without words. Sketch something or try your hand at watercolors.

Every creative person needs time to regenerate. Writing takes brain power, and it sucks  at your reserves. If you spend all of your free time writing, eventually your mind will rebel, and even if you don’t suffer from writer’s block, your output will be less fresh, less creative. Writers trying to work through burn out produce stale stories that lack the spark that brings them to life. So take an hour or two, or a day, and remember what the world looks like. Experience something creative outside your chosen field. Take a day off from print and typing and sentences dancing in front of your face and enjoy some other art form or physical activity. Don’t wait until you have trouble writing to pay attention to your creative health. Instead, add an occasional creativity break to your schedule. Even a periodic mini-adventure will help to keep those ideas flowing.

Friday Links

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Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve all had a good week, especially given how turbulent it has been in certain parts of the world lately. From tornadoes to earthquakes and riots to terrorists, things feel particularly tenuous. So give the people you love a hug or a call — or maybe write them a lovely handwritten letter — and take a moment to think about the very different lives we all live. It’s good writing inspiration, yes, but it’s just good humanity, too. And if you’re in the U.S., don’t forget that Sunday is Mother’s Day.

Philosophical moments aside, I’ve got a nice collection of links for you today. I had to poke around a bit this week as things were particularly busy at work, so I hope you find these worth my digging. Enjoy, and happy writing!

Five Ways Scrivener Can Help Your Work in Progress – I’m a huge fan of the Scrivener writing program (and no, I have no connection to the company), and this is a great little mini tutorial. If you don’t have Scrivener and are interested in trying it out, ignore the link on the page and go straight to the source, where you can get a trial run before committing.

Paul Beatty on Satire, Race, and Writing for “Weirdos” – An interview with the author.

Anatomy of a Regency Letter – A lovely post on the physical details of a letter of the era, including paper sizes and folding techniques. (Thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for the link.)

The First Day in the Life of a Brand New Bookstore – On last week’s opening day for Little City Books in Hoboken, NJ. Charming and heartening. If you’re in the Hoboken area, go buy some books.

Reach a Wider Audience: Eleven Foreign Literary Markets – Some thoughts on how to sell your short work into foreign territories, and why that might help your career on a wider scale.

 

Amy Tan: Where Does Creativity Hide?

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In her TED Talk, author Amy Tan discusses how she became a creative person by looking at the layers of her childhood, interests, experiences, and influences, as well as the more mysterious contributions of the universe around her. I hope this thoughtful, entertaining presentation gives you some new ideas about how to tap into your own creative reserves, and a new appreciation for the ways in which inspiration can suddenly strike. Even if you’ve watched it before, it’s worth a second viewing.

Friday Links

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Happy May! We’re a third of the way through 2015, so before we get to this week’s links, I want to give you all a little nudge. How’s the writing going? Are you happy with your progress? Are you keeping up with the goals you set yourself back at the start of the year? Maybe you’ve zipped right past them, or maybe things have come up to send you off on a fresh tangent — for better or for worse.

Since we’re heading into the weekend, I suggest you set aside an hour or two to examine your writing activity so far and to assess what you’d like to accomplish going forward. No beating yourself up if you haven’t done what you planned; just dust off your goals and take a look at your calendar and determine what you need to do to get back on track. Good luck!

That said, it’s time for this week’s Friday links. Enjoy!

Ray Bradbury on Madmen – A lost interview with the author from 1972.

2016 Helen Sheehan Book Prize – For an unpublished YA novel. Check out the prize page for complete details.

Jane Austen’s Real Mr. Darcy Unmasked by Historian – Maybe.

The Anxiety of the First-Time Novelist – An amusing anecdote about “the author crazies.”

The Moth International Short Story Prize – For those of you writing short fiction.

Ask Your Characters “Why?”

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Flat characters can kill your story before it even gets started, and they’re guaranteed to make an agent or editor stop reading your manuscript long before the end. It can be difficult to allow your characters to develop naturally when you have a wonderful idea that you want to move them through, but it’s important to remember that as exciting as your story may be, there needs to be a reason for your characters to do what they do. You can’t have them act only to serve the story in your head; those actions must make sense both in the context of the story and for the character you have written. And the best way to know what your characters will do in a given situation is to ask them why. Asking “why?” will tell you who they are.

Behind every action lies a motivation, no matter how small. Why do we get out of bed? Because we can’t sleep. Because we have to go to work. Because we’re no longer tired. Because we heard a noise. But when it comes to character building, you want to ask why a character is the way they are. What led them to the start of your story? Why have they reached this juncture? Why have you given them certain personality traits and skills? Why do they work in whatever job you’ve assigned them? It’s not good enough to say “because I said so,” because if that is the only reason for their actions, they are in danger of becoming cookie-cutter characters, cliches you move through the story instead of realistic characters who drive the story.

You create layered, nuanced characters by drilling down and getting to the core of who they are and what they want. Their goals play into the action of the story, but it’s even more important to know why they want those things, because that motivation is what keeps them from giving up in the middle of a quest or throwing in the towel when a relationship requires some work. Likewise, asking why will explain a character’s inability to sustain a romance or tendency to pick a fight when certain subjects arise. If you have a character who is vulnerable in certain situations, you want to know why. What in their past formed that part of their personality? A character with a particular skill set learned those skills somewhere; why are they so good at whatever it is?

Not all of these details will loom large in your story, of course. Some may appear as a detail in a conversation, while others might end up “extras” for your website, but you will know, and that knowledge will inform everything your characters do and say over the course of the work.

You won’t have all the answers before you start to write, either. Some will come to you as the story develops and your characters land in situations that require them to react. Those decisions might be obvious to you, or they might require some thought, but try to understand why they make the choices they do.

Other answers will only work themselves out while you rewrite and revise, in context to the larger picture of the entire story. Look for inconsistencies in your characters’ behavior. Does something happen to change their outlook or their approach? Have they tripped over some trigger that brings their past to the foreground? Or have you pushed them to some point merely to move the story forward? Later drafts allow you to check for consistencies of behavior and motivation, and to make sure your characters are changing over the course of the story in an organic way that fits both their personalities and their experiences.

As with real people, you will never know your characters completely, but if you ask why they are the way they are in respect to the story you’re telling — why and how their pasts affect the present action — you will go a long way toward fleshing them out into living breathing beings who will engage your readers and draw them into the world of your work.

 

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