Creativity and the Writing Process

On Podcasts, Cave Dwelling, and Studying the Art of Writing | Author Toolbox Blog Hop | writing podcasts, writer podcasts, list of writing podcasts, best podcasts for writers, top podcasts for authors

Posted by on Jun 21, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process | 5 comments

On Podcasts, Cave Dwelling, and Studying the Art of Writing | Author Toolbox Blog Hop | writing podcasts, writer podcasts, list of writing podcasts, best podcasts for writers, top podcasts for authors

Unless you have been living in a cave in a very, very secluded part of the world, you have most likely heard about, if you are not actually engaged in, the trending phenomenon known as the podcast.

I, myself a resident of said cave, have heard of the term only thanks to the fact that I teach high school. Were it not for my students, my technical savvy would be lacking on a much greater scale. My students keep me updated on all things trending, and we have a secure enough relationship that they don’t laugh too much when I ask them how to use whatever new technological marvel currently obsesses their media-saturated interests.

For those of you who are quite content in caves of your own and are unfamiliar with this new-ish technological marvel, a podcast is an episodic, radio-style talk or video show you can subscribe to, most often for free. Once you are subscribed, new episodes will download automatically to the media-playing device of your choice.

I tend to ban myself from excessive use of media. It is easy for me to lose hours in the time-sucking vacuum created by the computer or television screens dotted throughout my life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it… I enjoy it too much, and I don’t have a lot of down time. So when I first heard of podcasts, I noted the idea, then filed it in the portion of my brain labeled “Highly Interesting but of Unlikely Benefit” and moved on.

Oh, how wrong I was.

As a writer who is addicted to research, one of the ways I work myself out of being stuck is to dig deeply into researching the concept I’m stuck on or the technique I’m wrestling with. I am new to the marketing game, so as I was researching marketing strategies, I discovered for myself what a wonderful thing the podcast is. I discovered that podcasts are portable, free, and abundant. I subscribed to one focused on marketing for authors, and now consider podcasts one of my first go-to resources, especially for research on the go. I can listen to podcasts while completing mindless chores, such as folding laundry or washing dishes. Thanks to current technology that allows me to sync my phone to the sound system in my car, I can even listen to podcasts while I’m driving. As I spend a lot of time driving, this is a beautiful thing.

I should come out of my cave more often.

For those of you who are new to the podcast form, or for those who are looking for some new podcasts to try, here is my current lists of writing-helpful podcasts.  They are listed alphabetically with brief descriptions of major focus in the parentheses. I hope you find something among them that meets whatever need you are experiencing on your current writing journey, and I’d love to hear of any writing or creativity based podcasts you are listening to. Happy listening!

  • #AmWriting with Jess & KJ (writing in general)
  • Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach (writing in general)
  • Book Launch Show (book marketing)
  • Create If Writing (authentic platform building)
  • DIY MFA Radio (writing-specific how-to)
  • Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (grammar how-to)
  • Hastag Authentic (social media how-to)
  • HopeWriters (writing in general)
  • Podcast Communicator Academy (writing and creativity)
  • ProBlogger Podcast (blog tips)
  • Save the Cat! Podcast (story structure and form)
  • Story Grid Podcast (story structure and form)
  • The Author Hangout: Book Marketing Tips for Indie & Self-Published Authors (book marketing)
  • The Creative Penn Podcast (writing in general)
  • The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins (book marketing)
  • The Sell More Books Show (book Marketing)
  • The Writer Files (writing in general)
  • Write Now with Sarah Werner (writing in general)
  • Writing Unblocked with Britney M. Mills (creativity and inspiration hacks)

 

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No Plot? No Pants? No Problem! | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on May 17, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process, Uncategorized | 4 comments

No Plot? No Pants? No Problem! | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

“Are you a plotter or a pantster?”

Utter this question in a group of writers and watch from a safe distance as the formerly unified whole splits into two parts like the ground on a fault line in an earthquake (and with about as much noise). Notice the shifty glances cast as writers discreetly shuffle to one side or the other of the gap now forming, ever-so-subtly aligning themselves with those who are likeminded. Look on and wonder, “What have I done?”

What you have done, my friend, is broached one of today’s literary hot topics.

While the divide is not nearly so dramatic as an earthquake, many authors are firmly established as one or the other, and knowing which side you stand on could be foundational in your career as a writer.

A plotter is someone who outlines an entire work before sitting down to actually write it. Writing this way gives authors a detailed map, allowing them to plan minute details before even writing a word.

A pantster, on the other hand, is someone who writes without the outline, literally “flying by the seat of the pants”. Pantsters prefer this method because it allows the story to grow more organically, and allows the writer to be surprised during the writing process.

Well known plotters include Katherine Anne Porter, John Grisham, R.L. Stein, and J.K. Rowling. Nora Roberts, Margaret Atwood, Pierce Brown, and Stephen King are among the pantsters. Many authors fall into one of the two camps, and you can find a lot of resources online to help you identify which style suits you the most.

Me, however… I’m more of an excavator. As I’m playing with my initial idea, I find scenes scattered throughout the plot like bones peeking through surface dirt. I craft those scenes carefully, executing the tools to hand as precisely as an architect excavates fragile skeletal fragments from the earth. Once out in the open, I hang them on a plot diagram in rough-guestimation about where they belong. As I write, more of the current work’s structure is exposed, and a better picture of the overall whole begins to form, allowing me to plan the positioning and execution of the elements of the work accordingly.

Much like exhuming a fossilized skeleton from the ground, my method is slow, painstaking work. It requires many drafts, but what work-in-progress (WiP) doesn’t? And, oh, the surprises I find along the way!

If, like me, you find you are neither a plotter nor a pantster, never fear. Writing is subjective, even down to its very creation, and no to authors work exactly the same way. My suggest is to experiment with both plotting and pantsing, borrow what works from each method, and meld them into a combination of your own. Then, when your WiP is completely excavated and ready to be viewed by the masses, look on and wonder at the amazing thing you have done.

 

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The Emotional Connection | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on Apr 18, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process, Uncategorized | 17 comments

The Emotional Connection | Author Toolbox Blog Hop

I am knee deep in the revisions of my current WiP—a sequel to my debut fantasy novel The Healer’s Rune—and I’ve come upon a problem. Although my plot is technically correct, the story itself lacks the spark of life. This is not an uncommon problem among authors, so I turned to two Internet-based writer’s groups that I belong to for help. In the course of the discussion, I was introduced to The Emotional Craft of Fiction by literary agent Donald Maass.

In the opening pages of this writing resource, Maass states: “The most useful question is not how can I get across what characters are going through? The better question is how can I get readers to go on emotional journeys of their own?” (2).

Maass goes on to argue that, although a manuscript can be well written and technically correct in every aspect of plot, those characteristics don’t guarantee that readers will be caught up and carried away by the story. He proposes that what is lacking in this instance is an emotional connection.

Ah ha! I thought. This sounds like exactly the problem my manuscript is suffering from.

My guess is, I’m not the only one. If Maass is right when he states, “Emotional impact is not an extra. It’s as fundamental to a novel’s purpose and structure as its plot. The emotional craft of fiction underlies the creation of character arcs, plot turns, beginnings, midpoints, endings, and strong scenes. It is the basis of voice” (4), then the emotional impact of our stories is something all authors should look at more closely. But where to begin?

In The Emotional Craft of Fiction Maass proposes three primary paths to producing emotion in readers. He calls them “inner mode,” “outer mode,” and “other mode.”

  • Inner mode involves the telling of emotions – authors repot what characters are feeling so effectively that readers feel something, too.
  • Outer mode involves the showing of emotions – authors provoke in readers what characters may be feeling by implying their inner state through external action.
  • Other mode involves causing readers to feel something that a story’s characters do not feel themselves.

Maass does not spend a lot of time on inner mode and outer mode. While he discusses them in sufficient detail in chapter two, and includes advice on how to wield them most effectively, he postulates that writers are already most familiar with these two modes. With this in mind, he devotes the rest of the book expounding upon what he calls other mode, which he says is not a single technique or principle, but a “vast array of elements tuned like the instruments in an orchestra to create a soaring emotional effect” (30). He spends the remainder of the book detailing these elements and includes writing exercises to help authors develop or enrich the emotional levels of their current works in progress.

As I write this blog, I am half-way through Maass’ book. Working through each of the writing exercises has helped me discover and develop the missing spark that my work lacked, and I am once again excited about my current WiP.

How about you? How important do you think developing an emotional connection is to the full development of a novel? How easy or difficult is it for you to include/develop the emotional layer of your work?

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What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

Posted by on Jun 30, 2016 in FAQ | Comments Off on What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

What is the Best Way to Find an Editor / Agent?

You’ve done it. You’ve put in the grueling effort, the rear-end numbing hours, the family-alienating dedication. You’ve studied your craft, honed your technique, and parsed your rough draft until you have a final product worthy of public consumption. You have written a book / short story / poem / screenplay and have decided to publish traditionally, and you are looking for an agent and / or an editor to represent you.

There’s just one problem: most editors, and a lot of agents, are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts. So how do you get your finished product in front of someone who has the power and resources to publish and distribute your work?

There are two very good ways. The first is to get the most current copy of the Novel and Short Story Market (or whatever version of the Market fits your work–there are several), produced by Writer’s Digest (you can get it from the Writer’s Digest website, or from most bookstores). That book is a comprehensive list of which agents and editors are searching for clients, what they represent, and how to contact them. It also contains essays that discuss current publishing guidelines and  how to prepare your manuscript for submission, and a section listing contests for the current year. Everything I learned about how to submit my work for publication, I learned from these Manuals.

The second way is to go to writer’s conferences and make a pitch appointment with an agent / editor you want to represent you. You can also have a portion of your work critiqued by an industry professional at most of these conferences. The best thing about the whole conference experience, however, is the people you get to meet. If it’s truly not what you know but who, then conferences are the way to meet the whos. Conferences can be expensive, but they are well worth the cost. Consider them a well-made investment in your future.

A few miscellaneous details to make your efforts more successful:

  • Make sure you have a quality manuscript. Take the time and effort necessary to make your work as professional as possible. Have it critiqued and / or edited (critique groups are great for this) and make sure it’s formatted according to the proper guidelines before you submit anything. Rumor has it not taking this advice is what gets most manuscripts an express trip straight to the slush pile.
  • If you’re not part of a writing / critique group… WHY NOT?? Writers write alone, but quality feedback from like-minded artists is what makes manuscripts come alive. Seriously: get thee to a critique group.
  • Develop your on-line writer’s platform. A thriving, active presence on-line is quickly becoming a prerequisite for consideration by traditional publishers. You need to have one in place before you even start submitting. Seriously, start now. (If you need help, I have several pins on Pinterest that cover this topic.)
  • Speaking of Pinterest… more information than you’ll ever use, right there. I have 34 pages devoted to various aspects of writing how-to, writing fantasy, writing YA, writing romance… you get the idea. Check them out here.
  • If you are on Twitter (if not, see two points above) follow Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly. Both feeds frequently post tweets announcing new agents who are looking for authors to represent.

 

Now it’s your turn. What other questions do you have? Are there any pointers that I should add? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Happy writing!

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Author Visits

Posted by on Jun 1, 2016 in Creativity and the Writing Process | Comments Off on Author Visits

Author Visits

I am currently in the process of learning how to be THAT author who visits local schools, but I have no idea how to do it. If you, like me, share this passion and if you, like me, also don’t know what you’re doing, then have I got a blog post for you! Check out my resources page for How to Host an Author Visit to find links to instructional websites that I found helpful. If you know of any other useful resources on this topic, please reply in the comments.

As a shameless plug, if you are a school librarian or administrator in the Houston area and would like to have me  present in your school, send an email to me at Lauricia.Matuska@gmail.com. I’m available to speak for Career Day, Library Day, Young Author Round Tables, and Creative Writing Skills workshops.

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But… that was MY idea!

Posted by on May 18, 2013 in Creativity and the Writing Process, Uncategorized | 4 comments

But… that was MY idea!

I began reading The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa this morning.  Halfway into chapter 1, I felt myself sliding into a well of despair.  All I could think was, this sounds just like MY book, The Healer of Ennicy.

I’m not kidding.  The premise is the same: all of humanity is enslaved to a non-human type race.  The protagonist is a spunky young female.  There’s even a public execution at the beginning.  The only difference between Julie Kagawa’s premise and mine is genre.  In her story, the dominate races is vampires.  In mine, it is the fey.

I was sinking into a black, sulking funk rather quickly, so I put the book down and went to take a shower, half-facetiously planning my NEXT story, because I didn’t want Healer to look like it was inspired by The Immortal Rules.  Fortunately, the shower gave me time to think and helped me clear my brain, allowing me to remember something very important about creativity:

There is nothing new under the sun.

This concept is widely known.  It is found in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  It is quoted by Ambrose Bierce.  It is the controlling idea of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 59.  And it was even spoken to me, once, by a wiser-than-I writer friend who phrased it like this:  While my ideas may have been used before, they have never been used before by me.  They have never been presented the same way that I would present them, and that is what makes them unique.

Think about it.  How many times have you read a quote on the back jacket of a book that said, in effect, “This story is just like that one told by (insert name here)”?  Or how about when you finish reading a fantastic story that made you actually want to go live with the characters but, since you know you can’t, you go to the bookstore instead, searching for a book exactly like the one you just finished reading?  For that matter, how are genres built?

The focus of creativity is not the uniqueness of an idea itself, but the uniqueness of how that idea is presented.

I grudgingly accepted this thought and, because I can go without breathing before I can go without reading, returned to Julie Kagawa’s book after my shower.  Boy, am I glad I did.  Turns out her story IS nothing like mine, despite the initial similarities.  And that gives me hope because, when people finish reading her fabulously written story, they will want to find another one like it.

Which means I better get writing.

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/kiermacz/4515120671/”>uLightMe</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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