Category Archives: writing life

Weekly Writing Workout: Unconfrontable, That’s What You Are

I love to make lists. I’m kind of a compulsive list maker. One kind I make is a list of “unconfrontables.” How do things get on this list? Easy, by not doing them. If I don’t do them long enough, they are labeled “unconfrontable.”

If there is anything I have been avoiding, putting off, sitting around waiting to be fixed, mended, or in some other way taken care of, it goes on the list. Some items are easy, like sewing all the buttons on my pile of things that have lost buttons. Some are daunting tasks, like doing my taxes (an annual unconfrontable for me). Every once in a while I re-evaluate my list to see if I still care about each item. If I confirm that yes, this is something I want done (or needs to be done) and I am not any closer to doing it, it stays on my list. Sometimes I purge things from the list because a) they are no longer relevant, b) I don’t care any more, c) I’m obviously committed to not doing it.

(Eventually I do address the things on the list. Sometimes I have to prioritize them. Other times I do one a day until they are done. At the end of one year a few years ago, I went on an “unconfrontable” binge.)

Once in a while, something gets on the list that isn’t as tangible as buttons or tax paperwork. It’s a conversation that I’ve been avoiding that has possibly fermented into feelings of resentment. Could be talking to someone about quitting a gig or having a long-overdue talk with a loved one. Whatever it is, the way I play it out in my head is never how it actually happens. Darn people for not reading from my script.

Much of the time, though, doing the “unconfrontable” item takes much less time or is less dramatic than my head has made it out to be. And getting through a conversation that has been put off for days, weeks, even months is always a great relief. (But not always good for story conflict.)

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by Rashin Kheiriyeh

What does your character’s “unconfrontable” list look like?
What conversation has your character been avoiding?
What is s/he afraid of?

YOUR WORKOUT

1) SET YOUR TIMER for 7-10 minutes.

Start with the line: My Character has been avoiding __________ because …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

2) SET YOUR TIMER for 10-12 minutes.

Start with the line: My character’s resentment (or anger) looks like …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

3) SET YOUR TIMER for 15-20 minutes.

Write a SCENE in which your character finally CONFRONTS this unconfrontable situation/person. Please don’t make it easy for him/her! Make your character sweat, worry, fret, try to manipulate the situation in their favour, fail miserable, try another tactic, etc.

As usual, don’t have him/her say exactly what he/she means (i.e. don’t be “on the nose” about it). HAVE YOUR CHARACTER ACT FROM THAT SPACE. Question, misdirect, accuse, or something else..

Start with the line: As Character X approaches Character Y …

Write without stopping, crossing out, rereading, or editing.

And have a great week!

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If you are a blogger who would like to post your own weekly workout exercise with me every Monday, please write to info (at) danikadinsmore.com

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Writing Life: Present Beauty

A fellow poet once said to me that he admired another poet friend of ours, because he genuinely lived his life, and looked at life, through the eyes of a poet. Which means, he stayed in the present. Writing (and other art forms) focuses us in on the present moment.

As human beings out in the world, though, we are often inside of our heads, fretting about the past or future, rather than where we are right in the moment. I’ve been in the practice lately of trying to catch myself when I am not present, when my thoughts have carried me elsewhere. I stop and look around the room or bus or sidewalk at the other people to see where they are. I note what’s around me. The colours and shadows, the expressions and tones, the way someone moves, or how they’ve dressed. I notice what the birds are doing. And what kids are up to.

Sometimes we don’t have 2 hours, or even 1 hour, to write in a day. But we can still create in these fleeting moments. We can still make stories up, collect images, notice shapes and sounds and conversations. We can use all the time we are not writing as “research.”

Every time I walk through the cemetery, I notice the tree that looks like a wolf. Some day, that tree is going to end up in a story or poem of mine.

So, while standing in line at Starbucks, stop drafting that email in your head and look around you. There’s a little girl licking the whipped cream out of a mug while her mother yells into her cell phone. Someone is painting christmas stockings on the window and it’s not even Thanskgiving. The elderly lady in line speaks with an Eastern European accent and has a rebellious streak of pink in her hair.

All of these are useful beautiful moments. All of these make life’s background fuller and richer. They are life images you can glean from as an observer and recorder of life.

My WEEKEND WORKOUT this Friday will be about using these present images in a written piece. So, notice as much as possible this week. Not only will it keep you out of your head and in the present moment, it will be a creative database for later use.

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Weekend Workout: How To Be

Just because it’s NaNo month and I’m on Team Pantser this year, doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing my long-hand exercises. I’m sure a lot of people (especially Pantsers) type everything straight into their computer. During NaNo month, far more of my first draft definitely happens through my keyboard. But, I almost always warm up with a hand-written exercise and when I get stuck, I always reach for a pen. Writing by hand, for me, opens me up creatively,  frees my ideas, my blocks, and my editor.

Whether you are participating in the NaNoWriMo this month or not (and cheers to you if you are), I’ve cooked up a little exercise that you might find helpful at some point when developing a character.

A few weeks ago, the students in one of my classes read How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor. A sweet middle grade story about a girl who must live in a car with her mother and brother after their father leaves them with no money and they are evicted from their apartment. Her mother is working two low-wage jobs in order to come up with rent and deposit for a new place. The girl decides she’s going to help her mother raise money by stealing a dog. She’ll wait for the owner to post a reward and then bring the dog back for the reward.

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I didn’t find anything particularly surprising or eye-opening about the story, but I did like the concept, the characters, and the voice. I think voice is one of those things that’s difficult to teach, and even to explain to writers, but you kinda know it when you see it.

In the book, the main character creates a list of instructions in her journal on how to steal a dog. The assignment I gave to my students after they read the book was to write their own instruction list for something in the form of a poem, vignette, or short story (for example, one wrote instructions for “How to Make Someone Uncomfortable When You Pass them on the Sidewalk ).

It was a great exercise, so I decided to use it another way. What if the character in your story wasn’t giving someone instructions  on how to DO something, but how to BE something. What about how to be them? This might be a great way not only to develop voice, but backstory, motivation, wound, etc. In other words: character.

YOUR WORKOUT

Set your timer for 15-20 minutes. Put your character in a place (so we know who her audience is): a psych ward, the waiting room of a dentist office, an auditorium, school lunchroom, or maybe just home in bed writing in her diary.

Your start line is: To be me, you have to…

Write without stopping and see where that takes you.

Don’t edit, cross out, or re-read while you write. Keep the pen moving!

If you like the exercise, try it again with another character.

And have a great weekend!

NaNo NaNo!

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Team Pantser

Every year during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) the discussion of “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of his or  her pants) vs. “Planner” (one who outlines in advance) pops up. For the past two years I’ve been boldly promoting the “Planner'” approach:

https://theaccidentalnovelist.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/weekend-workout-prepping-fo-nano-or-not/

Reading that post, I sound very convinced and quite smug. Really, there is no one way or best way to write a novel, there’s just the way that works for you. And this year, I’ve joined Team Pantser. Not necessarily because I’ve seen the light, but because I’m being forced to for lack of planning time. As a matter of fact, I can’t even begin until Nov 4, so I’m going to have to haul literary ass to catch up.

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artwork by gizem viral

I was inspired by a recent discussion on this topic on a speculative fiction writers forum, and we heard from a few pantsers. There’s definitely something to be said for just going for it.

Jennifer (J.R.) Johnson wrote:

I spend no time outlining or researching. For me, the key to success is to achieve and maintain words-on-the-page momentum, and stopping to check an outline or fact just slows me down. In fact, anything that pushes me out of the story slows me down and is therefore banned from November.

 

Normally my system involves coming up with a basic idea (ok, a character and a situation) pretty much the night before. November 1st rolls around and I start writing. In the evening I spend about five minutes wondering where the story is going, scribble down a few notes about the most outrageous developments I can think of, then go to bed. Rinse and repeat:)

 

If the writing is slow I know I’m boring myself, so it’s time to throw in something crazy like ninjas (or whatever the equivalent is in your particular story)…

 

I think the success of NaNoWriMo depends on using it to fix whatever has been stopping one from writing … the two big advantages for me were giving myself the daily deadline and forcing myself to keep moving forward rather than stopping to endlessly rewrite the same paragraph over and over again until finally making enough progress to realize the paragraph/scene doesn’t belong in the book….

 

I always start with a vague idea of where the book is going — I’ve usually had fragments of scenes, some characters in my head for awhile—and just launch into it . . . when things slow down, I try to throw something new at my protagonists to keep them hopping…

 

… But—and this is important— putting this pressure [of the NaNo]  on oneself shuts down internal critic, so images and plot twists and characters pop out of nowhere, things I couldn’t possibly force out of my subconscious if I allowed the boys downstairs a moment’s thought. So what happens is, in desperation to feed the wordcount, they hand anything brainstormed out the door, and some of it is way better than you get thinking about it. I often over think stuff and always over critical to the point of cutting off ideas before they have had a chance to develop into something workable. NaNoWriMo forces one to just go with it and see what works. So…that can often be very helpful
Now, if all this pansting talk has gotten you inspired and you want to join in, but you have NO IDEA what to write about. Sherry Ramsey sent along an article she posted on “random generators” to get you started:

Help for the NaNo Panicked Part One

As well, she has a slightly different version of my 50 First Lines exercise:

 

I’ve actually never used one of my 50 First Lines exercises to write a novel (though I’ve gotten several short stories from them), but why not? You have to start somewhere.

 

I wanted to add that doing that NaNo takes a bit of “pantsing” no matter how much you like to plan. You need that momentum in order to finish 50,000 words in one month. The editor is going to have to be left behind simply to finish. And I really like that aspect of it.

 

If you’ve never done the NaNo, it’s a pretty unique experience. And there’s more to participating in NaNoWriMo than simply writing an entire novel in a month, although that’s pretty cool. There’s also the community, the dialogue, the sense of purpose, and the support. Oh, and the fun.

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover

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Authors of Indie Presses #3: Money is Good.

Many years ago, when I was a young poet, I adopted a “starving artist” mentality. To me, there was something romantic in it all. Creatively stretching small amounts of cash and haunting thrift stores. Running poorly-funded literary events and holding potlucks during the holidays.

I realized later that having money isn’t evil, that it can breed its own kind of romance, and, in fact, can be pretty useful. Money is the flow of energy. It’s thanking someone for their work, their time, their skill. It’s being able to treat the ones I love to our little luxuries. It’s buying creative time.

I live a fairly low-maintenance life. I have my simple luxuries (good food, good wine, staying on the beach on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast). But every once in a while, it feels good to really take care of myself and others. To pay for a gourmet meal. To get a fancy haircut or a massage. To buy some high-quality clothes and shoes.

I began to enjoy being in the money flow. To be able to hand it to another artist (whether their art is cutting hair, designing clothes, or massaging bodies) to say THANK YOU for providing me with something of value.

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art by Michael Manalo

Because I never followed a traditional job/career path, I’m used to the fluctuation of money in my life. I think this prepared me for the Writing Life more than those who have a traditional 9-5 dependable paycheck kind of job.

The thing about following a career path in writing is that one may not see any substantial money for a while. A long while. One could write for years, developing her talent and product without a sale. When she finally gets an advance, it could be small or non-existent. When, years later, that novel is published, the sales probably won’t rival those of J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Suzanne Collins.

To both create a Writing Life and maintain the flow of cash, I’ve had to be creative about how I earn a “living,” balancing teaching and writing and story editing and performing and working on film sets as a studio teacher.

I love my full and unpredictable life. I love waking up at 5:30 AM to write before going to my film job. I love when my job ends and I have the luxury of time again.

Knowing how to go with the flow of money and time has made me much less stressed as a writer. And much more grateful when the wins come in.

More from this series on tips for Authors of Indie Presses:

Authors of Indie Presses #2: Bookstore Reading Reality

Authors of Indie Presses #1: Public Appearances

Seen in the blog-o-sphere this week:

J.D. Munro’s most excellent tear-inducing post on being the mother of a bully.

Writer/Photographer Chris Fink-Jensen’s brand spanking new blog.

And this is just cool: Eco friendly houses set in the trees. (they are so magical I was instantly inspired to use one in a science fiction story)

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Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the 3:15 Experiment

I’m a bit at the eleventh hour here with this invitation (SINCE IT BEGINS TONIGHT), but truly, you could join the experiment at any time. And I wanted to write this invitation especially to those who don’t necessarily fancy themselves to be poets.

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Since August 1993, a shifting menagerie of writers has been waking up each night at 3:15 AM for the entire month of August to write. The original idea was:

to discover what connections would be made while writing separately, but together, at the same time for a month while under hypnagogic influences.

The experiment was so intriguing and inspiring it kept growing and morphing. Many writers have come to look forward to it every year. Many have created their own guidelines and experiments within the format. We love this as long as people maintain the point: to write in the hypnopompic/hypnagogic states (between sleeping and waking / waking and sleeping).

Anything posted to any “official” 3:15 publication or website maintains the RAW unedited material. Though many writers choose to publish their edited poems elsewhere. We like that, too.

To Join:

A facebook page to stay in communication during the month:

3:15 Facebook Page

Some samples from years past:

The 3:15 Experiment Website
Though not everyone chooses to post their poems (or even types them out).

And here is a thesis paper written by Gwendolyn Alley on the topic:

The 20th Anniversary of the 3:15 Experiment

My invitation to you comes in the form of a poem.

you don’t have to be a poet

to write poetry
my father built greenhouses
and filled them with orchids

I believe people are meant
to get along with each other

the Indian taxi driver waves
me into my turn
gives me the right
of way      as I cruise
the summer streets on my
hand-me-down bicycle

I stop at the Holy Cross Anglican Church
to write down that line
about my dad’s orchids
before it spills into the road
with my juggled thoughts
of the two cherub-faced Mormon boys
who came to my front door
struggling to respond
when I told them:

Think of the metaphor of the ocean
how we can be drops
yet still disappear
into the One
universal consciousness

before thanking them for their good work
and sending them on their way
tripping tongue-tied through the gate

no, you don’t have to be a poet
to write poetry
you just need to write
yourself
an open door

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Filed under Collaborations, do something different, poetry, The 3:15 Experiment, truth and beauty, writing exercises, writing life

I Disappeareded

Every once in a while, we must “disappear” for a time. Or at least we should . . . anyone who tries to maintain all the little working parts of their lives when the big unexpecteds show up is going to drive themselves to an early stress grave.

Sometimes we face crises (my heart goes out to the families of all those firefighters who died in Arizona), sometimes we change jobs, sometimes we go on extended trips, sometimes we face physical ailments, sometimes we fall in love.

Sometimes all five at the same time.

by Vincent Manalo

by Michael Vincent Manalo

Whenever this happens, if you’re like me and have to manage your own work schedule, and tend to take on a lot of different projects, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. To stay healthy and sane, it’s best to assess all commitments (to yourself and others) and uncommit to what you can.

Without feeling guilty.

Many times it’s the commitments to ourselves we put aside (exercise, creativity, socializing). And we feel just as guilty for breaking commitments to ourselves as we do to breaking them with others. As a matter of fact, I bet those ones break our hearts just a little more, because we are putting aside our dreams.

I feel anxious when I’m not writing or editing. My stress level goes up. So, recently, when life threw me a series of curve balls, and I wasn’t writing or editing or even blogging, and I was overwhelmed with so many things on my plate, I made the decision to drop a few commitments I had made to others.

I chose the ones that I hadn’t started yet, so didn’t have much emotional investment in them. I was brief and honest when I told them they would need to find someone else. It was better than me sending excuse after excuse as to why I hadn’t finished yet and stringing them along. Really, it’s a win-win decision.

I felt lighter after I had told them. Immediately, that night, I started working on my book again for the first time in weeks. And here I am, able to blog again. The short bandaid rip of pain in communicating my inability to follow through on these things was worth it.

So, how do you face your own periods of overwhelm when you have them?

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