Writing Tools: Crossing Genres

blog-hop-buttonThere are two obstacles that every writer faces in one form or another: Writer’s Block and Craft Fail. These two elements are inextricably linked because writer’s block is caused by the frustrated ability to articulate the writer’s imagination through craft. If writer’s block were created by a lack of imagination, it would not be called writer’s block. Writer’s are overflowing with imagination and are only hindered by their ability to put their worlds to words. An epic Craft Fail is usually the culprit unless of course, you aren’t a true writer.

I will share with you the methods I use to overcome these obstacles. I have a degree in Sociology—Anthropology to be precise—and one of the things I learned from university, other than writing novel-length research papers, is that the seeds of each discipline of human experience may be found in all the others. In plain speak, it means that just because you’re a fiction writer doesn’t mean you can’t learn craft from poetry or screenwriting or [insert genre here].

Busting Writer’s Block

One of the most difficult genres to write is poetry and I include song lyrics in this mix. This discipline was studied among the Druidic colleges and required approximately twelve years of matriculation for one to be considered proficient. What I learned while writing poetry is that our subconscious minds have treasure troves of images and ideas that are locked away. Our conscious minds have filtered the sights and sounds we experience into hidden sectors labeled with such names as “irrelevant” or “to be examined later.” To access this treasure, I perform what is called “stream of consciousness” writing. It’s a form of automatic writing that unlocks the doors to the hidden sectors of the mind.

The average human thinks about 600+ words per minute. Compare that to the 150-200 words per minute that the average human might speak. We write even slower, even on a computer keyboard. What are we doing in all that time with that incredible amount of processing speed?

 

The speed with which our mind processes things can cause problems in listening and in awareness. It can also cause us to overlook important details.

Technique: I’ve provided you with a few links below, including a video from K.M. Weiland that explains the usefulness of this technique. It’s something I learned while in counseling because I had an awesome social worker trained in cognitive behavioral therapy who gave me homework between sessions. If you want to find out what is motivating your plot, your character, or your theme then follow these simple steps.

  1. Gather your supplies: a pen or pencil that writes fluidly; smooth, lined paper; a comfortable writing surface.

  2. Find a comfortable and quiet place to write.

  3. At the top of the page, write your prompt. A prompt is a few words about your subject. I might put at the top: Why is Erik in Boulder? or Women’s body consciousness – how does Laney express this? Even though this is steam of consciousness, your prompt is there to keep you on track.

  4. Write. Keep writing. Do not edit. Do not stop. Even if the words “I need to get milk” pop into your head, write it down.  Glance at your prompt when this happens as you continue to write. Did I mention Do Not Stop?

  5. Do this for a minimum of five minutes but if you feel you can go longer, be my guest.

LINKS:

http://thewritepractice.com/stream-of-consciousness/

http://www.wikihow.com/Write-Stream-Of-Consciousness

Application: Ms. Weiland brings up valid positives and negatives about using stream of consciousness in the actual narrative or dialogue, but that is NOT what I am suggesting. What I suggest is that you use it as seeds in your exposition, dialogue, structure and character development. Your subconscious mind is constantly gathering information and pondering the burgeoning work that is blooming inside of you. There is a method to your subconscious mind’s madness that, when the conscious mind is lulled to listen, will make immediate and world-shattering sense to your work. I’ve done this countless times, especially when my work hits a dead end. My characters’ motives take on an organic authenticity as my inner wisdom is given expression. It moves me forward and it will move you forward too. Make it work for you.

Now that you have a few pages worth of craziness, it’s time to review what you’ve written. I can guarantee that you will find gems among the dross. Pick out the things that make your belly quiver, your mind ping, and your heart swell. Your gut will not fail you. Believe it or not, this is where honing your craft comes into play. I told you they were linked! The more you do this, the easier it will be to plough through writer’s block and then if the story isn’t right, it’ll come down to Craft.

Overcoming Craft Fail

I write in several different genres: poetry, fiction, non-fiction, song writing, screenwriting, comic books, and technical. I have written poems as short as 25 words to a novel as long as 50,000+ words. I’ve read books and tried techniques from various experts in each of these fields. I’ve discovered that each genre has the same goal: to tell a story of fact, fiction or evocation – sometimes all three.

I think it is absolutely essential for writers, even those with years of experience and an arms-length of publication credits under their belts, to go back to basics. Some of my favorite books are from the Elements of Fiction Writing Series by Writers’ Digest because these books provide the “elemental” basics so necessary to a good story. They cover topics such as: Scene and Structure, Dialogue, Plot and Structure, and my nightmare: Beginnings, Middles and Ends.

I also use the Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., which is broken out into several units of structure including: 5 Dramatic Throughlines, 6 Conflicts, 21 Genres, 11 Master Structures, and the 55 Dramatic Situations. If you are stuck, this gem will pull you out of the quicksand and fish out your shoes to boot.

I also use the following Writer websites:

Writer Unboxed

Helping Writers Become Authors

Live Write Thrive

Write To Done

This is just the beginning of great ideas, commentary on craft, and online support you can tap into as a writer. But don’t stop with just fiction! There’s all kinds of websites out there for Flash Fiction, Screenwriting, Poetry, Blogging—you name it! And you don’t have to write in that genre to get awesome ideas. We’re all trying to do the same thing: tell a great story.

I’ve also been expanding into the screenwriting genre. I’ve taken two free classes from Screenwriting U that were absolutely fabulous. One was the “21 Steps to Rewriting Your Screen Play” and the other was an introduction to the Mini-Movie approach. Both address structure, which I find to be my main stumbling block. I’m not writing a screenplay at this moment, but the advice and information in both classes translate nicely into fiction writing, comic book writing and even the technical and non-fiction aspects.

Don’t be afraid to cross-pollinate your writing. Try new things that excite your imagination. Go back to the beginning and look at your craft from a different angle. Reacquaint yourself with the basics from another perspective. You’ll be grateful you did.

I’d like to hear about the writing tools you use. Leave a comment below with your favorite way to overcome writer’s block or hone your craft. Writers from all genres are encouraged to share. Stay Calm and Keep Writing!

From The Jerk to A TOOL

“A couple of people have asked me about my ‘complicated relationship’ status. I just want you all to know that I’m in a relationship with me. It’s complicated, definitely, but I’m the only one who has to put up with my crap <laughs>.” ~my FaceBook status on January 21, 2014.

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The explanation behind my status is this:

I came into this world alone. I’ll leave this world alone. Out of all the people on this spinning planet, I’m the only person from whom I cannot escape. I am the only person I go to bed with every night.

And yes, it’s complicated because at the heart of everything, I’ve discovered that I’m The Jerk.

والهزه (The Jerk)

I’ve forgone the chair, the magazine, the lamp and the matches, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

“I don’t need anything except this. And that’s it and that’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control.” Navin R. Johnson

I’ve been carrying around these three things for a while thinking I need them.

The ashtray is my ego. My ego contains all the dirty lies I tell myself to get along in this reality. It’s the voice inside my head that tells me how awesome I am.

The paddle game is the pointless up and down or back and forth of old habits. It’s the voice inside my head that tells me what an absolute loser I am.

The remote control only has two channels: the ashtray network and the paddle game network. All ashtrays or all paddle games, all the time.

None of these relics from 1979 serve the unnamed something that has been growing inside of me like a strange, night-blooming flower. This beautiful and fragile flower doesn’t have a language yet and I’m trying to find words for it. We could call it awareness, but it is bigger than that. Meanwhile, the ashtray is trying to beat it to death, the paddle game is trying to choke it out, and the remote control is charging pay-per-view.

I have never in my life felt as awkward, naïve and stupid as I do now. Every insecurity I possess has bubbled up to the surface, like a bad B movie on Blue-Ray with Dolby Surround Sound. If you understand my experience, if you feel these things, then I would love to commiserate. If you don’t feel things like this, welcome to my strange and frightening world.

If I’m going to change things, the best way to start is to reframe the problem. I think I will look to music for that, preferably something heavy and gritty-ah, yes, here we are. Instead of being The Jerk, I am now a:

TOOL

Whichever way you look at it, a TOOL is a useful thing but it needs to be fashioned and purposed
(to hear the song and see the actual lyrics, click the picture).

(The following is my paraphrase using lyrics  from “Forty-six & 2” by Tool off the album Aenima)

I’m shedding my skin, picking scabs again, and all at forty-six and twos. I’ve been wallowing in my own chaotic, insecure delusions. Contemplating what I’m clinging to, I know this means that change is coming. Live not the lie, kill the remote, Abandon the ashtray and paddle game to die in the truth, learn, love and do what it takes to step through the outside turning in.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m doing everyone a kindness by discouraging anything other than friendship at this time. Maybe after I’ve softened the old armor and cleared the way, I can come out the other side and consider the possibility of something more.

However, I will not complain or stomp my feet if the Morrighan tells me to quit my whining and dumps a hot, metal dude on my doorstep with the instructions: “Open at your peril.” I may be a hot mess right now, but I’ve learned to never refuse gifts from the gods.

An Open Letter to A Creep

Dear Creepy Guy at the Bar:

I’m thinking you might be a nice person. I’m thinking your mother loves you. Very much. But somewhere along the line she failed to teach you how to approach people. Or maybe it was an oversight on your father’s part. I speculate equitably.

Since the fine art of conversation, which is often learned through osmosis from our elders, has eluded your ken, I would like to present you with a few ideas about how not to interact with women – especially in bars. If you follow these rules, you might be able to talk to a few without them leaping off chairs or ducking under tables to get away from you.

its running away

1. Walking up to a woman only to stop a few feet away and stare is considered threatening. If you’ve worked up your nerve to come that far, introduce yourself and risk possible, but hopefully courteous, rejection.

2. Women who are interested in talking to someone, male or female, smile and make eye contact. If she refuses to make eye contact with you, she is telling you to leave her alone. The frozen deer-in-the-headlights stare does not count.

3. Just because the karaoke DJ announced a woman’s name to the entire crowd doesn’t mean you have made a proper introduction and can use that name as an opening to ask her inappropriate questions about her personal life.

4. Lurking is rude and threatening. It is exponentially creepier when you make sure she can see you coming before stopping mere inches from and directly behind her.

5. If she turns her back to you when you approach, she is giving you the opportunity to save face and walk by.

6. If you aren’t invited to move and talk comfortably among the people that are so obviously part of the woman’s social group, don’t wait until she is alone to corner her.

7. Following her from one end of the bar to the other when she is trying to get away from you is unequivocally threatening, especially if you stand between her friends and her.

8. If a gentleman in her social group makes the appearance that he is with the woman in question, assume that she is with said gentleman. It’s none of your business what the relationship happens to be.

This is not an exhaustive list. I understand that social interactions can be awkward or opaque or strange, and I am able to move beyond those moments because I too seem awkward, opaque and strange (to most). But your behavior was out of the ordinary and constituted the only fly in last night’s ointment of a very good time.

My wisdom is that the experiences we have externally are reflections of the way we experience ourselves internally. So ask yourself, Creepy Guy at the Bar, what would drive a woman to leap from her chair to escape you? What are you chasing that you can’t seem to catch?

Because I’ve asked myself why I didn’t just glare at you the first time you so rudely lurked in my specific direction. I wondered why I waited until I just couldn’t take it anymore before telling you to “go away.” I finally had to ask myself, why did I exhaust all the polite social cues before acting when my gut told me to stare you down? What creepy part of me am I too afraid to confront until I’m cornered?

Show Me Your Hub, Baby

Things to be grateful for this week: I had a serious breakthrough in how I can be more aligned with the Center of the Tree of Life known in Qabala as Tifareth (aka the Christ Consciousness).

Tifareth is the Sun/Son, the Center, and is known as Beauty or Harmony. This sphere rests in the center of the Pillar of Equilibrium and operates much as the hub of a wheel. It keeps all the spokes together and allows the vehicle to move forward. All influences, whether the source is the All or a reflection of the All (from Earth/Malkuth), pass through this sphere. This is where we find the Holy Guardian Angel, the Savior, and the Vision of the Harmony of Things. Everyone has a personal Tifareth, a God-spark, within them and this is one of the greatest gifts from the All.

what you were born into

So how does this relate to my amazing week? I’ve been struggling. I’ve been trying to reconcile love and hate and the issues of race, gender, religion, and anything human-made that divides us from each other. Trying to have conversations with people about these topics is difficult (understatement) and very few people are ready to have this kind of conversation without getting upset.

I must explain that I’m a relentless sort of person and I lack a certain polish (it’s called tact). One person, offended by my relentless lack of tact, indicated that he could not believe I was bringing up the matter of skin color or gender as it was irrelevant. I wanted to know why? If I have to ask these questions about skin color or gender, I reasoned, a problem exists. I can’t pretend racism doesn’t exist. I can’t pretend that sexism doesn’t exist. I want to understand and I want to challenge the idea that merit is earned by an accident of birth.

Then I had the discussion with a new friend I met on Saturday. He said that color doesn’t matter either, but he acknowledged that there were problems. He spoke about “back in the day when co-workers and friends were just co-workers and friends – not Black, Hispanic, or White.” I remember that time too, but I also remember my grandfather using the “n” word and afterward, my father having to explain to me that I didn’t have a “black friend” but that I had a “friend who happened to be black.”

Some people don’t get that I’m exploring. They tell me to stop asking questions because it’s not going to do any good. Well, I have always been the person to say, “Hey, does anybody else see the big white elephant in the middle of the room?”

My new friend finally let me ask questions until I didn’t have any more questions to ask. He was patient, funny and outspoken. He could see the white elephant too. I felt much better, but the amazing thing is that he stripped color away. He stripped gender away. He made me see that no matter what the physical vehicle looks like on the outside, we are all suffering to some degree on the inside. We all have our challenges. Some of us more than others, but we choose how we overcome them.

baby knows what you teach it

My new outlook is not color based or gender based. When I see people now, I will seek that inner flame, the hub of the wheel, the God-spark, and I will give them the opportunity to show me how they have tended it. Because that’s what truly matters at the end of the day. How will you show the world your hub?

Personal Writing Goals for 2014

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When you set goals, you tell your subconscious mind, “Work on this.”   Even if you’re not so sure how to go about reaching a goal, just setting that goal down on paper makes it more real than if it continued to float aimlessly about in your head.

As an example, I am setting my personal writing goals for this year in the paragraphs below.

Overarching Goal: Write through a rough draft without editing.

The Overarching Goal is my aspiration. This is the ideal I hope to attain. I want to set this goal just out of my reach to make me work harder. I’ve met the goal if by the end of the year I have moved toward the ideal. Doing this gears my subconscious to accept less than perfection. As some of us know, perfection can be as great a saboteur as lack of organization.

Sometimes I think the crying pie is a little too small in this graphic...

Sometimes I think the crying pie is a little too small in this graphic…

Now I’m going to set up my Sub-Goals. The Sub-Goal addresses a self-imposed obstacle that is holding me back from achieving my Overarching Goal.

Sub-Goal #1: Complete my romance novel. I am notorious for half finished stories and half-finished does not sell.

Sub-Goal #2: Take on writing assignments with deadlines. I want the pressure of a deadline to hold me accountable to my writing.

Sub-Goal #3: Post on my blog at least twice a week. Inertia is not my friend and I want to keep this train moving.

Sub-Goal #4: Structure and schedule the social media forums that I enjoy using. I use social media to avoid writing, especially when I’m stuck.

Now that I have sub-goals, I need to break them down into an Action List.

Action 1: Set a deadline to complete the first draft of the romance novel and write to meet that deadline.

Action 2: Accept the publisher’s assignment to a series with deadlines and multiple publication credits and attend the conference call.

Action 3: Create a list of blog topics and set up a blog schedule. (One of the previous action items was to join a Blog Hop. Now I’m committed to generating one blog post every two weeks.)

Action 4: Select the three most enjoyable social media applications, make pros and cons lists for each, and select the one with the most advantages to devote 10 minutes of activity a day.

Once I’ve completed this Action List, I can create another Action List that moves me forward. One action a week in each sub-goal will move me towards my overarching goal. I can do more than one action, but I must commit to one action per week and that will help me set realistic goals based on what my schedule looks like that week.

The Overarching Goal, the Sub-Goals, and the Action Lists can change at any time as I discover what works and doesn’t work. My writing career is a work in progress and I’m okay with that. I’m learning that accountability is a key to my success so I will give updates on my goals throughout the Blog Hop.

To see all the posts in this Blog Hop, click here.

Copyright © 2014 iokirkwood.com. “Personal Writing Goals for 2014” by I.O. Kirkwood. All rights reserved.

MBM: Creating Flawed (But Likeable) Characters, by A.L. Sowards

I.O. s Aside: Don’t forget the flaws. They spice up your characters and endear them to your readers (most of the time).

Blog | Rebecca Belliston

Welcome to the tenth day of MARCH BOOK MADNESS!

Today, A.L. Sowards is here discussing characters. She’s the author of Espionage, a Whitney Award finalist this year, set in France during World War II. The sequel, Sworn Enemy, is due out this April. (Click the covers to read the synopses.) When A. L. Sowards agreed to guest post for March Book Madness, I was thrilled. Especially because she’s discussing something I struggle with — something many authors struggle with.

Cover_FRONT_Espionage updated, small version

Cover_FRONT_Sworn Enemy_lr

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Sowards

Creating Flawed (But Likable) Characters, by A. L. Sowards

The words stung a little because I knew they were true. One of my friends just emailed me her thoughts on an early draft of my second novel.

About the protagonist, she said, “I like him . . . but that’s all. I feel like I should have a crush on him, or want to be like him…

View original post 1,628 more words

A Manual on Women: Page 367

Women remember things. We make decisions based on how we feel. Don’t think these are a spur of the moment decisions, either.  Each memory is a point on a microcosmic tally sheet. Much like Maat weighs a soul’s heart against a feather, so too does a woman weigh the good experiences against the bad in a relationship.

On a woman’s subconscious tally sheet, a man could take her on a Caribbean cruise and that would earn him one point. The woman would then go on to grade the man for his behavior during the cruise. If he is attentive and romantic, he earns points for each gesture. If he’s distant and dismissive, he loses points.

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This could cross the sexes but I know I do this…

Conversely, a man could never take a woman on a Caribbean cruise (or buy her expensive jewelry or exotic flowers or fancy dinners) yet every gesture he makes shows such an abiding affection and respect and desire for the woman that a bouquet of handpicked flowers, a walk in the park, and a homemade dinner would earn him more points than the man who dropped cash for a cruise. It’s about the quality of the experience.

My sister-in-law expressed it nicely after she had gotten over a miserable head cold. She had volunteered to make 300 sugar cookie children all with piped sugar accents. Then she fell ill. She had baked the cookies but spread before her were 300 unfinished children-shaped treats and she was overwhelmed. Without being asked, my brother showed up “with a smile and his piping tube.”  This was after a hard day of work on his part and helping with the children. She even posted a picture, and I could see the delight on my brother’s face as he saved the day for the woman he loves.

Grand gestures are nice, especially when it engages both participants in something authentic and enjoyable, but a woman remembers every gesture and it all adds up. Showing up with a smile to save the day, even though it’s just piped icing, means so much especially when it shows that the person cares about what is IMPORTANT to a woman.

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Are you sure about what you want?

Women and men want people around them and in their lives who add value to their experience of the world. Some of this is monetary, attached to prestige, and dependent on attraction, but in the end, they seek relationships that add value to the meaning of life. These relationships elevate, support, and nourish dreams and positive self-images.

Each present moment is part of a continuum and each experience is a metaphorical point. Experiences within experiences are also points. Your quality of life is determined by the balance between the positive and negative. Where do you want your balance to be?