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Your writing resolutions

It’s a new year, so it’s time for what you would expect.

Resolutions.

Of course, we all want to lose weight and exercise more in the coming months of 2011. But as writers, we need to add to that list.

One of my writing friends is fond of saying, “It’s time to put the butt in the chair.” Hopefully you’re not offended by the term used to describe our backside, but the course is clear for our No. 1 resolution of the year.

And that is to sit in the chair and write.

During the coming months, we will have many excuses why we won’t be sitting, from housework to day jobs to family issues to self-doubt about our writing. This will be the test of whether we are writers or just someone who just wants to be a writer.

Writing is damn hard. It takes discipline and sacrifice. We may work years on a book or screenplay and it may not sell to publishers or producers. We may be tempted to take our computer and dump it into the street. We may wonder if we are any good at writing, or whether we do have anything to say.

What can we do?

Put the butt in the chair.

There, we can build up the discipline we need to finish a project. We can learn what we are willing to sacrifice to tell our stories. If our book doesn’t sell, we can self-publish and get it out there. If our screenplay doesn’t wow Hollywood, we can shoot our own movies. We can improve our writing craft with instruction.

Writers do have something to say, which is why we write.

So in 2011, eat a few less calories, walk more steps, and put the butt in the chair.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

 

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Filed under Archives 2011, Question of the Month, Writing

WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?

I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”  My answer is simple. “Everywhere.” Let me explain. Story ideas can come from a number of places such as newspaper and magazine articles, movies, plays, paintings, conversations, and landscapes to name only a few.

Take for instance the trip Pat and I took to Stricker Ranch that I wrote about in an earlier post. On one hand this outing was simply a review of local history. On the other hand, it provided a wealth of information we hope to turn into interesting stories. Why is a ghost hovering at the top of the stairs? How many ghosts haunt the dry cellar?

I read once that by the time a person reaches age 30, he/she has enough life experiences to have something to write about for a lifetime. The trick is to know how to turn those life experiences into good stories.

So the question then, is, what makes an idea a good story?

1) The idea must be interesting.

What if Shakespeare really was a woman?

2) The idea should appeal to a large number of people.

Shakespeare is a well-known playwright. Everyone has been subjected to him at least once before finishing high school.

3) The idea is specific.

Who really was this mysterious man? Did one person really write all of those brilliant plays?

A lot of people would like to know more about the person who wrote so many entertaining plays and sonnets. Virginia Woolf, in fact, speculates on that very thing in A Room of One’s Own. Thus, a story exploring Shakespeare’s gender is an idea that has universal appeal. It would make a good story.

Conversely, let’s say I want to write a story about my dog. I love my dog. My dog is cute. But she isn’t extraordinary. She can’t speak English. She can’t even sit up and beg for food without falling over. A story about my dog would be zzzzzzzzzzboring. It wouldn’t appeal to a large number of people, and there is nothing specific that sets my dog apart from any other dog, except, of course, that she belongs to me.

That’s a simplistic example, but you get my point. As a writer, everyday I am surrounded by possible story ideas. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are not.  My job as a writer is to find a way to turn those ideas into great stories that have universal appeal.

What if I told you my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net? Then you might be interested in reading about my dog. Most likely not, but you get the picture.

The best stories come from taking an ordinary situation/idea and applying the “What if” factor. What if Shakespeare really was a woman? What if my dog could catch mice with a butterfly net?

Using the “what if” factor, look around you, and at the things that have happened to you, your life experiences. Then give the ordinary idea a little twist, and you’ll be on your way to writing some great stories.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Filed under Archives 2010, Question of the Month, Writing

Grabbing story ideas at Stricker Ranch

As a writer, I look for story ideas everywhere I go. Recently, Patricia Santos Marcantonio and I took in Fright Nights in Old Towne Twin as a way to increase our cache of stories. For two hours we heard about the history of Twin Falls County and some of the colorful people who lived there. Not only did we come away with a better understanding of the area, we also came home with several new story ideas.

What if a ghost really haunts the public library?
What if Lyda Trueblood isn’t really buried in the Twin Falls Cemetery?
What if Stricker Ranch really is haunted?

As The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz declared, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I doooo.”, I do believe there are good story ideas all around us. All you have to do is reach out and grab one.
-Bonnie Dodge

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Philosophizing on writing

During dinner one evening, my friend and I talked about family, what’s happening in the world and our backyard, but ultimately the discussion turned to writing. Our usual chat over sushi.

We each had stories that we were working on, so we brainstormed ideas, ironed out character bumps, filled in plot holes.

But that night, the talk turned deeper, to the basics of why we sit in front of the computer and produce thoughts, characters, words, stories, essays and poems. The question was what do we want to get out of writing.

It was a damn good question.

My friend said that while having her work published would be great, she strived for perfection. To make each word and sentence count, to make each meaningful and to make the story go forward. That was what was keeping her writing.

“And you’re writing for the money,” she said.

“No,” I answered. I wrote so that I could get to a place where I would have the freedom to write full-time.

I think we both said aloud something we had probably been thinking for a long time — What we wanted to get out of the writing.

That is a good question for all to ask.

Do we want recognition? Or to see our name in print? Do we want the joy of expressing those thoughts and feelings that seem out of place if we speak them?

I have friends who are freelance writers who must write to pay bills, while others want to tell the stories within them as only they can and want satisfaction from that process.

Others may want an outlet for creativity, as music and painting is for others.

My friend reminded me of what Joanne Pence, a best-selling author, said at the workshop sponsored by The Other Bunch in April. Joanne said that writing and publishing are two separate things.

That makes total sense because the discussion was not what we wanted out of publishing, but what we wanted out of writing. That indeed makes them two different things with two different directions and sometimes, the twain will never meet.

What do we want out of writing?

Our answers may change over time, or not. But there is no wrong answer.

There is just the writing.

– Patricia Marcantonio

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Filed under Archives 2010, Question of the Month, Writing

New Year’s writing resolutions

OK, so we’ve all made the usual New Year’s resolutions about dieting, exercising more, and all that. But as a writer, we should make a whole other list of resolutions to keep in the New Year.

  • Write five times a week — This is a hard one and so easy to break, but so important to work at. What we really are doing is setting goals for ourselves. Even if you just write a sentence or two, you’ll feel good. (Notice I didn’t say the weekend, because those are my times to relax. As I’ve written ad nauseam, if you don’t live life, what have you got to write about?)
  • Write expanded life sketches for the characters in your books and stories. I find that when I don’t do the most comprehensive job of character sketches, their motivations become a bit hazy. That is not to say they won’t change as you go, but a good character sketch will help you create a living, breathing person.
  • Don’t beat yourself up so much. We know that we are our worst enemies when it comes to self-doubt about our writing. Don’t do it. There is enough negativity in the writing world, what with rejections and the state of publishing. Instead, say to yourself, “I love my job as a writer. I’m doing the best that I can and will write more to hone my craft.”
  • Take a writing class or attend a writing seminar. Spend the time and money to learn and it will re-energize you, I promise.
  • Network, network. Writers need to get out there and find out what is happening in the writing world. If you live in a tiny tiny town, join national writing groups.
  • Join a critique group. It may take a bit to find the right people, but they will help you immensely.

Those are a few resolutions to start. E-mail the Other Bunch if you have more to share and we can post them.
And don’t forget to diet and exercise more.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Filed under Archives 2010, Question of the Month, Writing