Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Learn Your Craft

In July 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the Romance Writers of America National Conference in San Francisco.  I had wanted to go for years and years and finally the opportunity presented itself.  I carefully went through the conference offerings and picked out the workshops I wanted to attend.  Of the three days, I attended a day and a half of workshops.  Guess what I realized?  As I sat there and listened to speaker after speaker, I thought to myself:  “I already know this.  Maybe I’m better at this writing stuff than I thought.” 
You see, over the years I’ve taken many, many workshops online and I’ve ordered dozens of writing books to educate myself about what I’m doing.  That was my training ground, but for some reason I still believed I needed all those RWA workshops to find that one elusive thing to teach me what I thought I didn’t know – the one thing that was stopping me from being published.  When I came home, I looked with new respect at my writing bookshelf and my list of online workshops.  Those educational tools taught me everything I need to know to become a successful, published writer.  The rest has to come from me – by implementing all the insightful, valuable information.
Have you had a moment like this?   I compiled a list of workshops and books that have influenced my writing.  Do we have workshops and books in common?  Are there ones you swear by, but that I don’t have listed?  Please generously share your list and tell me if you had a moment in your writing life when you realized that you ‘got it’?  What impact did it have on your writing career?
WORKSHOPS:
1.  Margie Lawson’s “Defeat Self-Defeating Behavior” Workshop: 
From MargieLawson.com:  Need to learn how to gain control of your writing life? Learn how to defeat your self-defeating behaviors. Challenge your thinking. Use more than the usual 12 % of your brain. Set yourself up to perform at your peak by analyzing what patterns get in your way and tweaking those patterns to make them work for you. Visit MargieLawson.com to learn more. 
 – I hit a turning point in my writing life after taking this motivational class five years ago.   I began treating myself like a professional writer and expected others to do the same.  I built the habit of consistently identifying what was stopping my work production and using Margie’s strategies to get myself around those dragons.  This class had a huge payoff in my attitude and my confidence. 
2. Margie Lawson’s “Empowering Characters’ Emotions” Workshop
From MargieLawson.com:  Want to add a psychological punch to your writing and editing?  Want to learn how to capture the full range of body language on the page?  Want to turn your work into a page-turner by powering up emotion and hooking the reader viscerally?    In this class you will learn the EDITS system, basic, complex, empowered, and super empowered passages, back story management, kinesics, facial expressions, involuntary physical responses, levels of intimacy, love signals, nonverbal gender differences, back loading  and much more.
–This class forever changed how I thought about my characters and how I presented them on a page to my reader.  I have learned how to present my characters with more heart and more emotion since taking this class.  This class also introduced a powerful, yet easy technique for evaluating what you’re presented to your reader and gives you the tools to punch it up to the next level.
3.  Margie Lawson’s “Deep Editing:  The Edits System, Rhetorical Devices, and More” Workshop
From MargieLawson.com:  DEEP EDITING is for the writer who wants to psychologically impact the unconscious of the reader. For the writer who wants to learn fresh editing techniques. For the writer who wants to edit for power. Participants will learn the EDITS System and take it deeper. See the interplay of patterns on the page and analyze what’s needed to strengthen the scene.  Learn 25 rhetorical devices and practice using them in your work. From anaphora to epistrophe, amplification to epizeuxis – learn how and when to use these techniques.  Learn Deep Editing tips including Margie’s Five Q, back story management, power lines, SAPS, throw-away words, cliché twists, back loading, tautologies, and emotional hits.
–This class will make you work, but it worth all the sweat and time it takes to study the techniques.  It improved my edit process ten times over.  After months and months of use, the instruction filtered down to my first draft process and improved that process as well.  I’ve kept my lectures and notes and periodically review this great class for reminders and new ideas.  The dollars you spend on this one will just keep giving back, over and over.
I will pause here and say – No, Margie and I are not related, she does not pay me to promote her work, and she has no idea who I am – other than a frequent student in her classroom.  Smile
4. Beverly Brandt’s “Plotting” Workshop – I’m not sure this class is still available to take from her, but it helped me to reorganize how I put my plot together, and updated my pacing techniques.  It utilized an Excel spreadsheet to analyze the plot, to track the pacing and to help find the story stoppers.  She has an article on her website that describes the process:  http://www.beverlybrandt.com/spreadsheet.htm 
5.  Laura Baker and Robin Perini’s Discovering Storybook Magic:
From DiscoveringStoryMagic.com – Writer's doldrums hitting winter lows? Need motivation? Inspiration? Simplification? More tangible methods leading to publication?  Discovering Story Magic will bring you writing instruction packed with magical inspiration and concrete information to produce salable fiction.  Laura Baker and Robin Perini teach a practical, three-step technique applicable to all genres and all levels of writers. Learn how to weave together character, conflict, plot, realization, and turning points from the beginning of the writing process through revision and even the synopsis.
BOOKS
1. Flip Dictionary by Barbara Ann Kipfer
Book Description:  You know what you want to say, but you can't think of the word. You can describe what you're thinking but you don't know the name for it. Flip Dictionary comes to the rescue! Best-selling author Barbara Ann Kipfer has created a huge reference that offers cues and clue words to lead writers to the exact phrase or specific term they need. It goes beyond the standard reverse dictionary format to offer dozens of charts and tables, listing groups by subject (such as automobiles, clothing types, plants, tools, etc.)
My Description:   I never write without this book at my elbow.  It is an idea sparker, a wonderful editing aide, and an all-around simple-to-use resource to have at your fingertips.  This reference will take your words from pedestrian to perfection.  Available at:  Amazon.com
2.  The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit  by Pam McCutcheon and Michael Waite
Book Description:  A recurring refrain in the writing business is that editors want fresh material something different they have not seen before. That's what The Writer's Brainstorming Kit is all about giving you the tools to jump the ruts and take flight in new, unexpected directions. Use the 50 cards and concepts in this book to: break out of your conventional mode of linear thinking, create conflict in your story, find new and unexpected plot twists, discover character motivation, trigger new associations in your mind, design a story from scratch, add depth to your characters, build your plot, define character goals, break through a block, and determine character traits.
My Description:  I’ve used this book to do all that is listed above.  I never start a new project without this book being the first thing I refer to.   Use the layout Pam McCutcheon has set up for awhile and you’ll find that soon you will be able to fill in the blanks yourself relative to the story you want to tell.  It’s a fabulous fun tool and good for brainstorming, too.  Available at:  http://www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com/
3.  On Writing by Stephen King
Book Description: Short and snappy as it is, Stephen King's On Writing really contains two books: a fondly sardonic autobiography and a tough-love lesson for aspiring novelists. He gives you a whole writer's "tool kit": a reading list, writing assignments, a corrected story, and nuts-and-bolts advice on dollars and cents, plot and character, the basic building block of the paragraph, and literary models.
My Description:  What I like about this book is that it’s simple and straight forward.  He gives an honest look at what the life of a writer is like and what kind of excellence you should strive for. It’s folksy, motivational, funny, serious, and a good read.  Paperback and hardback copies are available on Amazon.com.  My favorite quote from this book:   
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
I'm not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I'm not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn't a popularity contest, it's not the moral Olympics, and it's not church. But it's writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can't or won't, it's time for you to close the book and do something else.  Wash the car, maybe.”
 4.  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King  -
Book Description:  In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, two professional editors share their expertise and proven techniques for turning manuscripts into published works of fiction.
My Description:  I wish someone had given me this book to read BEFORE I started writing.  It would have saved me so much time.  I had it on my shelf, but I kept saying to myself that I wasn’t ready to edit.  [See head thunking to desk.]  This book focuses on writing/editing techniques (the mechanics of dialog, characterization, point of view, etc.) and sticks a "show and tell" style in its lively text including both good and bad examples throughout the book. Don’t make the mistake I did.  Go to amazon.com and find this book and give it a read.  I’m betting yours will be as highlighted as mine was.  My critique group gets tired of me quoting this book when I write reviews.  But if the principal applies . . .  Laughing
5.  20 Master Plots and How to Use Them  by Russell Tobias
Book Description:  This book shows you how to take timeless storytelling structures and make them current, for fiction that’s universal in how it speaks to the reader’s heart, and contemporary in detail and impact. You’ll find lots of practical ‘how-to’ and ‘what-to-do’ advice, rather than a lengthy academic discussion of plot.
My Description:  My writing weakness is plotting.  So many times I get stalled by mid-book blues and I hate it.  Consequently, I’m always on the lookout for a good plot book or workshop and Russell Tobias is one of the best.  He also has a book from Writer’s Digest on Theme and Strategy that is very good.  This book is straightforward and practical, as well as an easy read and easy to implement.  What more can you ask for? This one is also still available at Amazon.com.
6.  This one isn’t a book, so much as a tool:  Pike’s Peak’s Romance Writers Plotting Board.  I bury myself in sticky notes when I’m writing.  Do you?  Then I found the perfect solution.  I love this board.  It is one of the best writing/plotting tools I’ve ever found.  Visit:  http://www.pprw.org/plottingboards.html for details on where to get yours.  Also, I found this blog with a discussion on its usage:  http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2008/09/portable-plotting-board.html.

[Originally published on Happy Endings, March 18, 2009]

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