Tag Archives: writing advice

Things I Learned during Writing Residency

19226005_10154761056583505_1735351353313373426_nThings I have learned (some about myself, others about writing) during this residency:

Crocheting is as important as writing. Find your BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT thing and do it. You don’t need any more reason than that, so long as it’s not killing the household budget. If what you like is expensive or takes time your family can’t give you, see if you can pull a little dangling thread somewhere to get a small marked bit of time and space. You need it in life even more than writing.

The value of silence: it is tempting to tune into online TV during crochet time, the radio while we drive. Do without every so often. Sit and listen to what you’re thinking about, and be surprised at the connections that form because of the silence.

Don’t lose sight of places you like to be. Until I got to Fayetteville, I had forgotten how soothing, how inspiring, being in the woods is. Church, ball game, bathtub: wherever you go to get your writer on, don’t let anyone keep you from it.

Do new stuff because it’s new. This could be writing, finding a new place to hike, visiting a different town, cooking something weird, trying an intense craft pattern. Bust out of your comfort zone.

Know what you believe. I believe in Jesus. After that I’m listening. Right now polarities are oppositional in politics, religion, even how to cook lasagna. Every idea space is full of debates and hurricanes. Listening is good. Keeping one’s mouth shut is good. Usually people don’t want to know what you think; they want to tell you what they think. Let them; it’s grist for the writing mill, and not difficult to shake off what they will enjoy as a power move. It makes GREAT character study. Don’t get excited; get a notebook.

Draft fast; edit slow. My latest manuscript of 65K words drafted in three weeks. It was crap but had great bones. I set it aside for three weeks, then edited, sent to readers, edited again. The polished draft is with NYC’s publishing deities. Time plus chair plus keyboard makes drafts; fallow time plus finessing makes books.

Work with other writers in a bordered capacity. I’m fortunate to teach for Memory2Memoir and mentor writing educators with American NewMedia Foundation. What other people struggle with, how other people choose to tell stories, invigorates your writing. That said, offer too many consults and your time will disappear. When I sat down to do “other writer stuff” besides drafting or editing my manuscript, how much “other writer stuff” there was startled me.

Enter contests carefully. Writers can spend their lives looking for and finding them at $25 entry fee per. Like a plot itself, getting sidetracked to tell a wonderful story about some minor character may be fun, the writing great, but it doesn’t advance the overarching narrative. Entering contests because you don’t know what to write about yet? Awesome, keep going. Entering contests as avoidance to writing your book? Nope.

Have simple foods on hand. Peanut butter and apples were my staples, plus Trader Joe’s frozen polenta for hot meals. When you’re knee-deep in plot yet hungry, you can keep going.

Hope these are useful to you. I’ve loved my time at Lafayette Flats.

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Fighting with Time

Exactly half-way through this three-month writing residency, I’m aware that the hours left in which to write tick down the slope now. While this is motivating, it’s not a big deal. I’m feeling really good about having drafted the book I’ve always wanted to write, and getting the first feedback from the very helpful beta readers. (Mostly: good idea, bad execution – this is fixable and fun. It’s those bad ideas in good writing that make one ashamed, because you might try to sell it anyway.)

That’s not the kind of time fight I’m having, the fear that I won’t get enough done while here. I’ve been diligent.

No, the problem is the other book I’m working on as the feedback rolls in from the January draft. I’m trying to write a memoir that doesn’t run chronologically, but around ideas related in clusters. When you’re trying to string your smaller narratives, your pearls of storytelling, onto a connecting thread, time is the simplest one to use. It only makes sense, doesn’t it, to tell a story in the order in which it happened?

Until it doesn’t, and those of you who write know the frustration. That didn’t happen then, but it relates, so it gets put there, and then you realize you’re relying on a character in Chapter 3 who doesn’t come into his own until Chapter 8. Or a setting that hasn’t been built yet.

It’s part of the fun, putting faces to people and places without using the face of a clock. Meticulous fun, one might say, but fun nonetheless.

The transitions of time can be the most poetic pieces in a book. The Cost of Hope by Amanda Bennett comes to mind; she hops between 1980 and 2010 like there’s no tomorrow OR yesterday. And it works, hooking concepts together and increasing irony with her juxtapositions of then and now. I’m learning a good bit from her.time

And from trial and error. As Ira Glass says, if you’re making mistakes, you’re learning. Fair enough. I’ve got time to make the mistakes–six weeks left–and I’ve got time to write about, and time to write in. Who could ask for anything more?

Later.

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