Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Writing Life

New Year’s Resolutions 2012!

Oh, no, here we go again. Can any subject be more predictable or, let’s be honest, boring? Anyway, why bother? My New Year’s resolutions don’t change much from January to January. 1) Write more. 2) Revise better. 3) Accept criticism. 4) Remember: rejection = learning. 5) Whine less. Does that mean I don’t accomplish anything year to year? Or, maybe my goals aren’t clear enough and reaching them can’t be measured?

Actually, none of the above.

I realize, as I look back over this past year’s writing life, that I have moved forward even if some of the progress is subtle. In 2011, I might not have written more, but I wrote better. I might not have revised better, but I revised more. I learned from constructive criticism; the improvement in my work is testimony (and it has definitely improved). I accepted rejection as a signal to move on to other, perhaps better places to submit my work. Did I whine less? Perhaps not. But nobody’s perfect.

So, for 2012, rinse and repeat: 1) write better, 2) revise more, 3) learn from criticism and 4) view rejection as a pass, not a stop sign. Evaluate. Return to step 1.

How do you measure progress in your writing life?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What is great writing?

Lana writes in her post on story sense (Dec. 9) that a writer always needs to ask ‘is this the best way to tell this story?’ Expanding on this idea, Lisa Schwarzbaum writes in her column, “A Second opinion” that a great movie distinguishes itself because the “story has integrity, originality and a sharp intelligence. The characters are distinctive and fully formed. The action [plot] unfolds organically, driven by those characters, rather than arbitrarily, driven by writerly cleverness.” These criteria hold true no matter what genre, whether the story is written, on film, or spoken by a story teller, and no matter the age of the intended audience, picture book through adult. Both Lana and Lisa present us with criteria against which we can measure our own work and move it to greatness. (See Lisa’s review of “Bridesmaids,” in the December 23rd issue of Entertainment Weekly.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bits & Bytes: 90 Secrets of Best Selling Authors

Jessica Strawser at Writer's Digest has compiled an inspiring list of 90 (I know, why not 100?) Top Secrets of Bestselling Authors. The advice is broken into categories from Finding Ideas to Revising to Connecting with Readers. My favorite quote is:
“I don’t believe one reads to escape reality. A person reads to confirm a reality he knows is there, but which he has not experienced.”
—Lawrence Durrell
Check out these great quotes and let us know if one speaks to you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Heart of a Shepherd

Getting in step with a frequent topic for this time of year, I present my favorite Christmas story. Actually, it’s one of my favorites because I can never choose just one. It also isn’t exactly a Christmas story although the title of the book is suggestive. What makes it evocative of the Christmas season is its core message of giving and receiving gifts. In Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry, eleven-year-old Ignatius “Brother” Alderman, a cowboy-in-training, is left to take charge of the family ranch, along with his grandparents. His father has gone off to war and his older brothers are away at school. The future is full of foreboding, the burdens overwhelming. But faith is strong in Brother’s family life and in the life of the surrounding community. Brother finds gifts nestled within the deepest loss and unexpected possibilities in the midst of change. For me, his coming-of-age story embodies the spirit of Christmas and the wonder of the season. (Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry, Random House Children’s Books, 2009).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Author Skill Set: Story Sense

"The universe is made of stories, not atoms."
                    -Muriel Rukeyser

Storytelling is probably the oldest form of entertainment on the planet. Stories play significant roles in the human experience: It's how we learn, share, persuade, plan, dream, communicate, and make sense of the world. Indeed, the human experience IS story.

As technology has evolved over the years, new forms of storytelling have emerged. Books, radio, recordings, movies, video games, and electronic media each offer a new way to experience story. Whatever medium a storyteller chooses, a strong story sense is essential. Story sense, in my head, means this: the ability to create a satisfying story arc with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Many people have an innate sense of story, but I believe it is something that can be learned as well. There are many books about the theory of story structure, which are quite interesting. However, it comes down to that critical word, satisfying.

As I wrote my first novel, I rearranged the sequence and the pacing and the order of the scenes many times. I kept asking myself, "Is this the right way to tell this story?" Even after reading said books regarding storytelling theory and structure, I wasn't sure. When I changed the question to "Is this a satisfying way to tell this story?" I was able to feel confident about the choices I had made about my story structure.

What are your thoughts about story sense? How is it strengthened? How is it weakened? We'd love to hear from you.