Words of Wisdom with Anne Lamott

 

I love Ted Talks.

I use them in my courses when I’d like to invite a guest speaker, but I understand that the reality is I could never afford many of the guest speakers I’d like to invite to my writing courses.

Enter Anne Lamott, whose wisdom in writing is among the best out there.

Enjoy!

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Baby steps…

I’m fairly certain I might be the worst blogger ever. It’s a no-brainer to say this when I, despite being a college writing professor, fail to update my blog on any kind of schedule at all.

For those of you in the back-  I stink at this.

Life gets in the way quickly, doesn’t it? Other priorities try to steal us from the things we could/ should/ would be doing otherwise to build our careers, interests, and hobbies. And ‘little’ things like blogging just never get any attention at all.

I’m not here to make any promises that I’ll do better this year. What a cliche that would be on this second day of 2019! But I do hope for your understanding when I don’t do better– and maybe a little encouragement when I do manage to step it up a notch and actually blog even a few additional times this year.

Whether it’s blogging or some other area you want to do but just never find (or make?) the time for, let’s not overwhelm ourselves by making unrealistic goals. I am well aware that writing once a week is too much and won’t happen with my other work and life commitments, so I’m not going to lie to you and say that’s what I’m going to do.

But maybe, just maybe, I’ll do three more blogs in 2019 than I did in 2018.

Baby steps.

1 Year (Almost) Anniversary for Picking Daisy

It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been almost a year since Picking Daisy was published.

As a way to celebrate I was looking over the Pinterest board (aptly named ‘Picking Daisy’) that I made for the book.  Take a look and see some of the inspiration I used while writing, share the  board, and share the book with all your friends. From the board, you’ll probably notice that John Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls was my inspiration for Robby– the group’s music was a huge part of my writing too. Maybe you can enjoy listening to some Goo Goo Dolls while you read Picking Daisy, or perhaps the board and the music will help you see the book and story in a different, new light.

If you’ve read Picking Daisy and don’t mind sharing an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads, I’d greatly appreciate it.

You can purchase a soft cover copy or the Kindle version at Amazon.

 

Goals

Hard to believe it’s been a month since I added a blog post. Then again, with the chaos of finals, grading, and of course the holidays, maybe it isn’t such a challenge to believe it.

As I try to get back into a ‘normal’ writing schedule, I wonder if you have any goals for this year. Are you hoping to write more, take a stab at a new genre, or just finally finish that novel? Whatever your goals, don’t let them fall by the wayside as so many resolutions do. We start off strong with great intentions and quickly discover our sights were set much too high, with unbelievably unattainable goals.

How can we change this?

My recommendation is to make SMALL changes- one at a time. Instead of trying to ‘write a novel’ or ‘write every day’- why not make it manageable? In other words, schedule an hour of writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays and once that becomes a habit, add Wednesday and Friday in too, until you can eventually have that consistent daily time in your schedule.

Starting off small means you’re still starting, not becoming overwhelmed, and most importantly, it means you’re actually committing to and making writing changes.

Now, what do you plan to do with your writing this year? Get started! Small- and slow!

Happy writing!

Casting your story

Character is the cornerstone of any story. For me, casting my character list is a huge part of the writing and character creation process. To do so effectively means I’ll have more inspiration than I can sometimes handle when I’m writing, but this is a great way to stave off writer’s block.

So, how do you effectively cast your script? I’ll share a few tips:

Online searches

Everything from generalized descriptions like ‘blond female model’ or ‘middle-aged male athlete’ to something more specific like the name of a celebrity, model, sports figure or politician.

These searches can prove to be fruitful and may even inspire new characters or descriptions.

Magazines

It’s worth starting a file for pictures found in magazines, newspapers, or through other sources. You may need this file for inspiration later when you’re writing.

Keeping separate files for male or female leads might be wise, but I honestly just throw them all into one file and deal with them later when I’m ready to actually cast a specific piece.

Movies/ television/ news/ music industry

Any of these can offer great options for casting your characters. Surprisingly, it doesn’t limit my writing when I do this. Even if you’re a big fan of an actor or musician’s work for instance, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to see them in the role you’re casting them in. It might even mean you are more capable of doing so because you’re familiar with their work and quirks.

And further…

You don’t need to narrow it down to the ‘one’ for each role. I often create a document where I cut and paste different pictures for the moods of each character and the situations in which they might find themselves. While I may imagine one person or picture more than the others when writing, all tend to be valuable to my process.

Think outside the box when it comes to ‘casting’ your story. There’s no need to limit yourself to only searching celebrities or even well-known entities. Any picture can be a help when writing. There isn’t a right/ wrong answer here. Whatever inspires you is what you need to write.

Go for it! Cast your story now!

Happy writing!

Writing prompt: setting

Let this picture inspire your story. What ‘what if’ question does it inspire? What characters would you place here? Who are they and what do they want?

What critical climax develops in this narrative? What keeps the characters from achieving their goals?

tunnel

Happy writing!

Writing prompt: Setting

What little slice of heaven is this? How could this setting inspire or influence your characters? What would they be doing in a place like this? Who are they? What do they want? What stands in their way? What brought them to this location?

Happy writing!sunset

If the stakes are high…. Your story will fly!

One of the ongoing problems I see in my students’ screenwriting is that the stakes simply aren’t high enough in their scripts. What I mean is, they set up a problem that—no matter the solution—will leave the hero in the same position at the end of the script regardless of whether he wins or loses.

This is a huge problem.

In order for the script to work (and really this is true of a novel and likely short story as well) the world must change dramatically if the hero wins, but it must also change dramatically if he or she loses too. Otherwise, what’s the point of the story? And your audience/ reader will see right through it.

To ensure your stakes are high enough for your hero, consider the following points:

  • The hero wants something and has shown through his or her actions that they’re willing to do anything to get it. A person who is this intense and working toward a life-altering goal is doing things he or she may never have tried before—and they’re likely exhibiting some kind of courage to do it. With that being said, how could life ever be the same again?
  • Ask yourself why the hero wants to achieve this goal. What are the solid answers to that question? Usually this centers somewhere in the realm of the hero’s view of his/ her own self-worth. This is not an issue to be taken lightly.
  • Articulate clearly before you write how the world will be different if the hero wins or loses. This might make the concept of stakes clearer and more tangible.
  • Near the end of the story the hero should have exhausted all avenues in their efforts to find success. In doing this, the world has already changed. For better or worse is up to you—but the change will be there.
  • This may be a little bit of a side-note but something else that helps me make sure the stakes are high enough is knowing how my story will end before I start writing. It’s a habit I picked up when I studied screenwriting, but I find it helps in all forms of writing in terms of character development, plot progression, and even setting the stakes. I’ll likely write a separate blog post about this in the future.

Setting the stakes can seem like a daunting task at the beginning of the process. But if you think about anything you’ve done in your life that you’re incredibly proud of or that was very difficult, and you’ll likely find the reason this was so was that there were clearly established stakes that made all the difference.

Film examples of setting the stakes – Big Fish (Edward will die before his son knows who he is, and before their relationship—they’ve been estranged for years—is healed), Bruce Almighty (Bruce is selfish and if he doesn’t change he won’t really understand what love is or how to treat others), Wall Street (Bud is bent on success, but if he finds it, he may lose his family and soul)… see how important this is? Your hero’s victory or defeat is the center of the story- but only because in that he/ she’s life is changing in dramatic, unbelievable ways.

So, what are the stakes for your hero?

Happy writing!