Silence Is Golden


If noise clutters your mind, you will produce shallow writing.
Create silence and empower your authentic voice.


As you enter the room, you immediately feel its aching potential. The neutral walls yearn for color, texture, or art—anything to animate the room, to tell its story. Its soaring ceilings and generous bay windows invite you to stretch your legs, get comfortable, and stay awhile.

Unfortunately, this potential is utterly unrealized. Thousands of Post-it notes are slathered with scribbles and blanket the wall. Mold, mildew, and wood rot seal the windows shut, creating a musty, suffocating staleness. The pervasive clutter paralyzes you, and a low, ubiquitous hum from an indeterminate source distracts you beyond reason.

A perfect project for one of your favorite TV remodeling programs, right?

What if this were actually your creative mind, begging for your time and attention?

Your mind is a powerful force.

It is constantly filled with lists, expectations, and demands. It whirs with disparate and dynamic ideas, emotions, nervous energy, aspirations, optimism, insecurities, or despair. In addition to these ordinary (yet demanding) internal processes, our fast-paced world oftentimes distorts or completely ambushes your mental energy. Personal and professional responsibilities, twenty-four-hour cable, multiple email accounts, cell phones, text messages, and countless social media outlets create a tornado of distractions, noise, and mental bedlam for all of us.

But a noisy mind is a tired mind.

And a noisy, tired mind has limited capacity for cultivating your authentic voice. A noisy mind defaults to performing superficial work and producing writing that won’t be worth reading.

So how can you remove this mental clutter, eradicate all these Post-it notes from your mind, and create enough emotional, intellectual, and spiritual space to create? By simply turning the volume of your life down. Create silence.

We become so consumed by doing, doing, doing that we forget how to be quiet. We need silence in order to reacquaint ourselves with the powerful, purposeful, soulful, meaningful voice within us. In the silence, you will find the strength to go beneath the surface to the place where good thoughts and good sentences come together. A quiet mind interested in diving deep comes back with stunning creations.

Where to start?

Set boundaries in your external world. Unplug your phone, sign-off from your social media accounts, and turn off the TV. Tell your family, friends, roommates, and colleagues that you’re going off the grid and will be unavailable for a while.

Start for just a few minutes. With some practice, you will find yourself craving these moments—which will soon turn into hours, sometimes days (if you should be so lucky!). By isolating yourself from these external demands, you will be able to hush that ubiquitous hum that infiltrates your life, throw the windows of your musty mind open, and invite a fresh perspective into your soul.

But you still must go a step further.

Your internal noise can be just as draining as the external noise. During these cherished moments of silence, learn to observe your thoughts and emotions without being swept away by them. Breathe deeply. Meditate. Be still, both physically and mentally.

This, too, takes practice, but, with time, you will realize that your thoughts and emotions are not facts, just the rolling monologue of your mind. By slowing your inner dialogue, you will start to realize how transient your thoughts and emotions are. Only then can you prioritize the internal voices that will lead you to the appropriate intellectual, emotional, and spiritual depths where you can completely surrender to the creative process.

All of us carry an inner disquiet and long for deeper meaning. Don’t simply accept the clamoring in your mind and in your life. Prioritize and create both external and internal silence. Don’t wait until you’ve completed everything on your to-do list or resolved all the questions in your mind. And don’t expect it to occur organically. Create silence, nurture your creative mind, and fully realize the potential of your authentic voice.


CHANTA G. COMBS
Chanta is the newest member of the AROUND THE WRITER’S TABLE team and will be a regular contributor to our blog. Chanta’s professional experience has been in law, policy, politics and corporate America. However, she has finally surrendered to her lifelong passions of reading, writing, and researching, and is following them to new frontiers in her life. As part of that journey, Chanta is currently enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing Program at Florida State University. Her goal is to absorb all she can about the editing and publishing industries while also finding new dimensions to her authentic voice. Chanta is a mom in love with her eight-year-old son, two dogs, and two cats and she calls Tallahassee, Florida home.

This creativity tip is inspired by and based on The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever! by Dr. Eric Maisel (2011), and is used with his permission.

To Share Your Writing—or Not?

I recently attended two productive and gratifying writing events: one a week-long workshop, the other a three-day retreat. These events were, at once, similar yet very different from one another. On my long drive home from North Carolina, I contemplated those differences, as well as the impacts of these two events on my writing habits and my current project.


The major difference in those two events was the respective instructor/teacher’s philosophy about sharing our writing, which could be a current work-in-progress (WIP) such as a short story or novel, or something produced that day for a writing exercise.

Sharing Shutdown

The instructor for the first event is resolute in his opinion that sharing can often shut writers down. We too easily step into the comparison trap and the “I’m not good enough” chatter begins in our heads. It can leave us feeling exposed and raw if we don’t get what we want or expect from it.

So he presented each exercise for our own contemplation and response in the privacy, comfort, and shelter of our own minds and notebooks. The time between workshop sessions was spent independently working on our own manuscripts.

As a group, the attendees seemed pleased with this approach and everyone was massively productive during the week. We learned a great deal about one another’s projects, but no one read their work aloud or handed off printed pages to other attendees. We left satisfied with what we had accomplished on our respective writing projects.

Sharing As Validation

At the second event, we rounded out every session with each person reading her written response to that session’s exercise. Additionally, each day ended with a shared evening meal, followed by the chance to read a piece of our work aloud. Reading aloud was never required, but the opportunity was there for everyone who wanted to take it. By the end of the four days, nearly all of us had shared words we had written, either in a writing exercise or from our WIP.

On the last night, I shared a scene from my novel that I had been avoiding writing for . . . well, let’s just say, a long time. I knew it was going to tax my writing skills and be emotionally draining, too. But I had started it at the earlier workshop, and I got exactly the reaction I hoped for from the small audience that night. It still needed work, but now I knew I was heading in the right direction.

First-Time Trembles

I’ve been writing and attending events like these long enough that I see value in both approaches and am comfortable either way. But they can be intimidating for any writer who has never had a chance to share their work.

I recall my trembling hands, holding my short story manuscript the first time I read aloud to a group. I wasn’t sure the words would come. I also remember participating in my first critique group, wondering if I had “what it takes” to be a writer.

Unpredictable Outcomes

I’ve observed how individuals respond differently to the feedback they’re given–some becoming defensive and angry, some accepting it, as uplifting, with an open heart and an intention to improve. And I’ve seen how that feedback can be delivered with vitriol or with love, kindness, and honorable intent.

I have listened to writers share their opinions on a manuscript when the author never requested advice in the first place.

I have seen writers who–given the chance, but not required to read aloud–felt shamed into reading, obligated to share with the group or else be the only one “too chicken” or embarrassed to show their work.

I’ve heard about an author who shared a piece of writing in confidence with fellow authors and found out later they had discussed it, without permission, outside the original, and supposedly trusted, circle of sharing.

I know authors who have wilted and stopped writing completely after they were courageous enough to open themselves up to judgment from other writers.

I know writers who have grown and improved at their craft, their passion, because they shared their WIPs among a trusted and supportive group of kindred spirits.

Knowing if and when to share your work and with whom is an important decision that only you can make for yourself.

What has your experience been with sharing your work? Are you eager or uncomfortable doing it? Do you see benefits or disadvantages? Do you and/or your critique group have a set of rules or guidelines you follow when sharing your work and reading or hearing the work of others?

I’d love to hear your opinion and experiences in the comments below.

Query Letter Essentials

The query letter is effectively your written pitch to an editor or agent, enticing them to read or request your work. It is your first shot at gaining and, more importantly, HOLDING the editor’s/agent’s attention!

Keep it simple. I’d use the KISS anagram, but I hate the “stupid” on the end: “Keep it simple, stupid!”

So let’s change that, shall we?

Keep it simple and sharp.

Below I’ve included a sample query and we’ll break down all the elements. Then on June 21, join host Gina Edwards and me for a chat about query letters on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table. On the call, I’ll answer any questions I may not answer here.

First Things First

Research to whom you are submitting. Review their requirements thoroughly. Font size? New Times Roman or other? Whole manuscript or first 30 pages? Do they accept queries only through Submittable or do you send your query to a specific email? What don’t they accept? Don’t ruin your chance by not following their written instructions.


Sample Query

What to Include

Feel free to insert some personal things about yourself within the query, but keep it minimal. You want them to grasp your story and your qualifications in less than two minutes. I use the term “qualifications” because there are NEW authors who aren’t quite ready for publishing yet and those who have been around the block enough to know about critiquing, beta readers, editing and so forth.

The editor/agent needs to perceive that your story is polished to the absolute best of your ability, that you are serious, but also what your story is about: GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). So while my example above excludes any personal bits about “me,” I can hope that the blurb (containing voice) will speak to the agent I’m submitting to.

Review the sample above again. Immediately, the editor/agent will see genre, word count, and whether you’re submitting to a call. Contact information is easily seen/found. They will notice that you know their name; you’ve researched their publishing house enough to know to whom you are submitting, which shows that you’ve done some homework before submitting.

Next, they see your blurb, your BIG shot at getting them to OPEN your attached documents. Lastly, they see your experience, awards, and online visibility, which is a must for authors these days.

Have questions after reading this? Join me on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, Wednesday, June 21, at 7 p.m. I’ll talk about queries with host Gina Edwards then we’ll open the lines for Q&A, so you can ask your questions then!

See you there!


Bobbi Romans is a rabid reader, avid photographer, and a writer of romance on the quirkier side, crossing into and across sub-genres. She also just released a cookbook, Bobbi Roman’s Recipes for Giant Sized Families on Fairy Sized Budgets. She grew up in DC and resides in the south where she feeds nine+ hungry eaters every night.

Join Bobbi Romans and Gina Hogan Edwards for the next CONVERSATIONS Around the Table on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, at 7 pm for a deeper discussion about the query letter. Register HERE to get the call-in details for this free Author Education Series, which you can participate in by phone from the comfort of your home.

You can find Bobbi at:
~ Blog: https://bobbiromans.wordpress.com/
~ FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006862743829 and https://www.facebook.com/BobbiRomansBooks/
~ Twitter: https://twitter.com/BobbiRomans
~
 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bobbi-romans-866a8a97/
~
 Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6438996.Bobbi_Romans
~
 Authorgraph: https://www.authorgraph.com/authors/BobbiRomans

Show, Don’t Tell

by Sam “SR” Staley

Perhaps no advice has been more instrumental in improving the quality of my fiction than embracing the mantra “Show, Don’t Tell.” I don’t think I fully understood its importance until my second novel was published (which goes a long way in explaining why my first two novels were not picked up by traditional presses).

I had asked for “candid” comments from a friend, an experienced writer. Her major point? I spent too much time in my character’s head. I was sucking the mystery and magic out of my story by telling my readers everything. I wasn’t giving them room to make my story theirs, to use their imagination to add texture and meaning. In short, because I was “telling,” I was not connecting with my readers.

I have worked steadily ever since to do more showing in my writing. I am convinced my most recent novel, Tortuga Bay, has done as well as it has—first place wins at Royal Palm Literary Awards, Florida Authors and Publishers Association, a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards—because I embraced this principle. Take this example from a scene where the crew of an 18th century sailing ship is fighting a typhoon. As a beginning novelist, I likely would have written the passage along these lines:

Damn this storm!” Captain Munoz muttered as he held on the railing. The waves were tossing his ship around in the sea as if it were a child’s toy. He looked at the helmsman. “Keep her bow downwind!”

The helmsman looked as if he would throw a sword through Munoz’s heart.

The storm raged on as its crew fought to stay on course.”

But this is what ended up in the award-winning book:

“Damn this storm!”

Captain Munoz clutched the railing as the crest of a wave spun the frigate’s bow across the wind again. The stern fell from under his feet as the ship plunged off a receding wave. “Keep her bow downwind.”

The helmsman looked as if he would throw a sword through Munoz’s heart if he weren’t more afraid of being swept off the deck by the next wave. The wooden beam that kept the ship on course snapped to the side, pulling the helmsman off his feet as two more sailors threw their bodies against the tiller to steady the ship. They had barely turned the rudder back to its rightful place when the back of the ship heaved up under their feet to ride another twenty-foot roller.”   (Tortuga Bay, p. 85)

Description recreates the feel of a rough storm at sea, allowing the reader to understand the emotions of the characters, the pressures they face trying to keep their ship afloat as they fight a life-threatening antagonist: the storm.

Another example.

I remember the afternoon I saw Bill at the Catalina Cafe.

As I balanced my large mocha latte while pulling a chair underneath me to sit, my eyes fell onto his bandaged hand. Before I could look up, his healthy hand was already waving me to sit.

“I know, I know.” His eyes dropped to the tabletop as a scowl darkened his face.

I was sure my eyes could see, with x-ray vision, the reddened, split knuckles below the gauze. The memory from ten years earlier flashed: the broken plaster in our Alpha Omega house, dust settling to the floor, the jagged hole in the shattered drywall.. I shook my head. My jaw dropped open.

“I know,” Bill repeated. The edge in his tone pushed my jaw shut. “I’m going back to Dr. Feldmeyer starting next week.”

I sighed. “Shirley’s not coming back.” My index finger flicked at Bill’s broken weapon. “Not until you fix that.”

Contrast the passage above with the following:

I met Bill at the Catalina Cafe and immediately noticed his hand. Bound in gauze, I knew he was repeating his old violent behavior from our fraternity days. The difference is now he wasn’t drunk. How could he possibly think Shirley would come back to him?

If you were sitting down to enjoy a novel, which of these passages would you find more engaging? More interesting? For most readers, but not all, the first passage is the one that draws them in, invites them to be part of a story. The reader can feel the tension between Bill and the narrator, can imagine the atmosphere, and has time to wonder about the next step in their story.

The second passage does little to draw the reader into the scene. The reader is told the relevant information, implying the scene is not important or relevant, as if saying “Here are the facts, let’s move on.”

Using description to pull the reader into the story is part craft and part art. The transition was challenging for me because my professional career is centered in the world of public policy where telling is critical for effectively communicating to our target audiences: elected officials and the general public. Newspaper commentaries are rarely longer than 600 words, and readers should know what the article is about in the first two or three sentences. Writing must be compact and concise. In other words, don’t “show.” The newspaper doesn’t have the space, and the reader doesn’t have the patience.

Thus, “telling” has its place and role. If fiction writers want to pick up the pace of the story, for example, telling can be an effective writing device. Some writers (e.g., Clive Cussler) have branded themselves with their fast-paced, no description writing style. Also, the point of view (POV) of the story’s characters sometimes requires telling rather than showing, as in the case of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game which is told from the POV of a nine-year-old boy.

The key is to make sure the choice of “showing” or “telling” is intentional and serves the purpose of the story. Most fiction readers want to connect to the characters and their environments. More “showing” and less “telling” is usually the more effective style.


Learn more about “Show, Don’t Tell” during the next CONVERSATIONS Around the Writer’s Table, at 7 p.m., on May 17, 2017. Listen and learn during this free 30-minute program, followed by 30 minutes of open Q&A. Get details HERE.

Want to learn even more about showing vs. telling? If you are local, join Sam and me at the Tallahassee Writers Association monthly meeting on Thursday, May 18. You’ll find more details HERE.


Sam “SR” Staley (srstaley.com) is a multiple award-winning author of fiction and non-fiction books. His writing explores the uncomfortable realities, everyday heroism, and ethical dilemmas faced by contemporary children and adults in a society that values personal freedom and choice. He explores these themes in empowerment novels such as A Warrior’s Soul and Renegade, which explore courage and violence in modern schools, as well as in adventure stories such as The Pirate of Panther Bay and Tortuga Bay. His book on college sexual assault, Unsafe On Any Campus? College Sexual Assault and What We Can Do About ItIt, was released in 2016 by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.

5 Free Marketing Tools for Authors

by Shannon Bell

Authors, especially when starting out, don’t have huge marketing budgets. What money we do have, we want to hold onto. Whether you have a traditional publisher or go indie, marketing your book is still up to you. This means you need to try to use the various free marketing tools that are available to help promote your book as much as possible.

1.  Facebook Events

Facebook Events are built into the Facebook platform. The idea is to create a “Launch Day” event where you invite a large number of people. You can also invite other authors to come in and do giveaways throughout the day. Offering a gift card or another prize for the person who invites the most people gives you an opportunity to increase the number of attendees–and, therefore, increase the visibility of your book that’s going live on the specific day.

Within the Facebook event, there are many things to help you promote. Create a graphic banner to have in the event so people know all about your book and where to buy it. Contests can be run to give people a chance to win an e-book or swag. You can also ask people to share the event or a link with your book details on it with their friends, which gains even more exposure for you and your book.

2.  Rafflecopter

Rafflecopter LogoRafflecopter is a great website to help you with giveaways. While there is a paid option, you can use the free one–and it will connect to your Facebook author page as well. It manages a giveaway and helps you to broaden your audience at the same time. People will receive entries for the giveaway based upon visits to your author page, sending out a tweet, and other qualifications that you identify when you create the giveaway. When the contest is over, Rafflecopter even reminds you via email to pick the winner.

3.  MailChimp

MailChimp LogoNewsletters are golden opportunities to gain readers and tap into new readers. You have a captive audience when they receive your newsletter in their email inbox. Growing your newsletter is easy, and it can be done on Facebook, Twitter, and more. MailChimp is a free website and tool that will manage your list and give you templates to use to set up a newsletter as often as you wish to send one. An app is available that will even put a newsletter subscribe button inside your Facebook author page.

4.  Later Bro

Later Bro is a website that allows you to schedule tweets on Twitter in advance. You log in and then write out all of your tweets. The benefit to this is that you can schedule a large number of tweets across several time zones. Capture specific hashtags you want to focus on, such as #TeaserTuesday and the genre of your book.

5.  IFTTT

IFTTT - If This Then ThatIFTTT is a web and mobile app that stands for “If this then that.” IFTTT allows you to automate a significant amount of your social media so that you’re not spending so much time in the different platforms. You can set it so that each time you post a picture on Instagram, it is also sent out via Twitter and/or posted to your Facebook page.

The app allows you to link multiple social media accounts, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, as well as a WordPress blog. It saves time and allows you to tap into audiences within the various social media platforms. This way, your book gets the exposure it needs without you having to spend a significant amount of time posting back and forth.

Combining these five, free marketing tools with a well-thought out marketing plan allows you to gain more traction with your target demographic of readers. You can get your book in front of more eyes without spending any money. More importantly, you engage with your readers rather than simply throwing your book up for sale in front of them constantly.


Learn more about author marketing strategies by joining author and blogger Shannon Bell, at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, for CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table, hosted by editor and creativity coach Gina Hogan Edwards. In the second half of the hour, you’ll have the chance to ask questions regarding marketing and social media. To get details for how to listen and learn, click HERE.


Shannon Bell has written multiple books to help authors with their marketing plans, including 97 Facebook Marketing Tips for Authors and Launching Your Book: The Ultimate Marketing Workbook. She is a bestselling vampire romance author and is the marketing chairperson for the Florida Writers Association. Her marketing books, as well as her vampire novels and other books, can be found at: www.amazon.com/author/shannonbell.

Shannon Bell, Author and BloggerLaunching Your Book97 Facebook Marketing Tips for Authors97 Twitter Marketing Tips for Authors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organizing Your Ideas

Last week, we talked about having a container(s) for your ideas so they don’t evaporate or move on to another creative soul ready to receive them because you are not in a position to use them immediately. The logical next step is to have an organizing principle for your ideas so they don’t simply stagnate or sit neglected, hidden away inside their containers.

The organizing principle should fit logically and integrate well with the types of idea containers you use. You want a finely meshed system, not a monster that has to be wrangled every time you use it.

The concept of organizing dozens or potentially hundreds of ideas can be overwhelming. So it’s critical to think through the process, and perhaps experiment, to find a method that works for you.

If you use only one type of idea container—say, a spiral notebook—then it should be easy to assure those ideas get some attention in their due time. Create a simple reminder to yourself to periodically review those notes. I do suggest, within the notebook, that you have some system for flagging items you may want to return to and use later.

For example, I carry in my backpack a composition notebook labeled NOTES; it goes with me almost everywhere. Anything and everything that comes up, including thoughts on my novel, goes into it whenever and wherever the ideas arise. To find ideas I know I will use later, I mark the upper-outer corner of the pages: Blog Idea, Novel, Book Title, Short Story Idea, Workshop Idea, etc. Sometimes I get more specific: Novel-Scene between GD & Gwen.

Then I review my notebook regularly, sometimes two or three times a week, to pull out the ideas for any current work-in-progress. I can simply flip through the notebook, checking those labels I put at the top edge of the pages. I know what’s there without having to read every word. When I find something I am ready to use, I generally retype the handwritten notes directly into my work in progress (which has the side benefit of often sparking new ideas).

Ideas I intend to use on some later project stay in the notebook, for now. When the notebook is full, it goes on an office shelf and I start a new one, but the ideas in it are clearly identified by the flagging system I use for ease of rediscovering them in the future. Those retired notebooks get revisited when I am actively seeking new ideas.

While I leave my ideas inside the notebooks, intact until ready to use, another writer might regularly rip out the pages, group them based on their category, and then file them in color-coded folders. I used to use the file folder and drawer method, but between streamlined furniture and laptops, and my self-awareness that I’m more likely to go back through a notebook on my shelf than I am to dig into a file drawer, I dropped that method. That’s why I suggest experimentation, to see what works for you. Whether the ideas stay in the notebook or are filed in a drawer or on your computer, they should be revisited every few months.

If you use more than one idea container, tracking and categorizing your ideas need not be any more complex. You may simply need an additional layer of periodically checking each container to decide what to do with the ideas recorded there.

For ideas stored in multiple containers, consider working backward to establish your organizing system.

What do I mean by that? You’ll need to have a notion of what the final, collective organizing system might look like so you can begin. First, consider what type of structure would be most accessible to you? What type of system would you be most likely to return to routinely? What are your options for that? File folders labeled or color-coded by category, as mentioned above? Electronic folders on your computer or in the cloud? Shoeboxes under your desk? Something that might seem quirky or unconventional to others, but that you know suits you? Be creative. Seriously, any method is fine as long as it works for you.

Your next effort then is to label your folders by category . . . or name your computer folders . . . or find and label the shoeboxes—whatever tasks fit the method you are aiming toward.

Once the final organizing structure is in place, set a schedule for transferring your ideas into it. Whatever and wherever your idea containers are, go to them regularly to move the ideas into your organizing structure. That could mean you need to print out email messages you sent to yourself, or copy/paste text messages into a Word document for printing, or shuffling index cards into stacks of related ideas.

Allow time to do the associated tasks on a regular basis. If after a while, you decide these tasks take too much time, consider how you could streamline your system. That might mean reducing the number of idea containers you use or changing the type. Or it might mean defining a different organizing principle or merely simplifying the one you have.

If the initial set-up seems overwhelming, break it down into steps, or set a timer and work on it for just a ten minutes a day until you have the system that will serve you.

Here’s a side tip: your idea container and organizing system can be the same. For instance, EverNote and electronic systems like it are great repositories for everything: web page captures, your original notes, photos, etc. After the initial learning curve of the app/software, you can use this one tool as both storage and organizer. The downside to this type of system–and I’ve heard many users say this–is that they load all sorts of things into it and promptly forget them. Out of sight, out of mind, that is.

Well, there’s no use in filling the bank if you aren’t going to take some of the gold out every now and then. Like any system, you have to regularly lay eyes on what’s in it if the ideas there are ever to be used.

This sort of organizing effort might seem silly to some writers, a waste of time even. But if you do it, if you allow yourself some time to experiment and to develop a manageable, accessible, and usable system that suits you, you will never be without ideas for new projects and you’ll never lose that idea that felt like the best one yet.

Have an Idea Container

Ideas are fleeting. Why is that? How is it that we can receive or—zowie!—be hit by what we feel is a fabulous idea but then, later, cannot even remember it, as if it simply floated away?

It’s too much to consider, really. It’s a shame at how much goodness and creativity may be lost because the human did not take hold and record it.

In one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TEDTalks, “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” she talks about the different notions of what happens to ideas when we don’t grab them. Do they simply dissolve, cease to exist? Is that how it is? Or does the idea move on to someone else when the original, intended receiver was not prepared to give it the attention it deserved?

I prefer to embrace the explanation that the idea continues to exist and seeks out another willing home, another channel. So if I’m not open and prepared to receive a fabulous idea, then that home—that channel—will not be me.

Great ideas, no matter how splendid, don’t hang around if you don’t capture them. So have an idea container ready to hold them.

What is an idea container?

For some writers, an idea container is as simple as a tiny notepad in a pocket or purse. It could be a deck of index cards. I have a friend who twines elaborate doodles around her ideas, artfully written into a leather-bound journal that is always with her.

 

Those who are tech savvy might prefer a phone or tablet with a note-taking app, such as GoogleKeepEverNote, or Microsoft OneNote. Another friend of mine sends text messages to herself with reminders of her ideas.

 

In a pinch, whatever is close and available may become your idea container . . . which often isn’t a safe or effective tactic. We have all heard stories of geniuses scribbling world-changing ideas on napkins in restaurants. Those napkins can be so easily tossed. The ideas might as well have not been recorded in the first place.

I find it’s good for me to have several different types of idea containers. These are typically composition books, plain-jane spiral notebooks, and notepads of various sizes. I tried index cards because I was intrigued with the concept that I could shuffle them around to piece together my thoughts about scenes for my novel in new and interesting ways. That didn’t work so well for me, but it might for you.

I keep my idea containers in numerous places—at my desk, beside my living room chair, in my car, in my backpack, in my purse—but always within easy reach.

No matter where you are, and especially when you are doing an activity that often fosters ideas (such as walking), grab those moments—however random they may seem. Try out a few assorted methods of capturing your ideas to see what works for you in different situations.

Whatever you use as your idea container, for goodness sake, use something.

Point of View – Another Look

Last September, on CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table, our monthly tele-call for authors, we discussed different forms of POV, the advantages and drawbacks of these forms, and what it means to have a close POV versus a distant one. We also talked about how your choice of POV will be influenced by the genre in which you’re writing.

In this month’s conversation, we will explore POV further and look at:

  • Common POV mistakes and how to avoid them
  • The strengths of a close POV and how to achieve it
  • The craft of using multiple narrators (multiple viewpoint characters):
    • How to create authentic and distinct voices
    • How to transition without confusing the reader
    • How to keep your central protagonist from getting lost in the mix

If you missed the last show, or you’d just like a refresher, here’s a summary of what we covered then so you can be prepared to dive deeper into POV on March 15, 2017.


Common Forms of POV – Their Strengths and Drawbacks

First Person

The narrator is someone in the story, telling the story from his or her perspective. There is a close emotional connection between the reader and the narrator (who is usually the protagonist), but you are limited to showing only what this character can experience. Also, the narrator’s voice is limited by the character’s age, personality, intellect, etc.

Third Person, Limited

The narrator is someone outside the story, and who doesn’t participate in the story, but rather uses the perspective of a single “viewpoint character.” This form allows you to have a fairly close connection to the viewpoint character without having to match the narration so closely to the viewpoint character’s voice. You still can only show what this viewpoint character knows/experiences in a given scene, but you can create additional narrators using other viewpoint characters to give the reader access to more scenes and information.

Third Person, Omniscient

The narrator is outside of the story but may dip inside the head of any character. This means any scene can be shown, any backstory can be given, and any characters’ thoughts can be revealed. The downside is that the reader will automatically be distanced from the protagonist (and any other viewpoint characters) and it can be jarring or confusing to the reader as to whose perspective is being shown in the moment. Most important, there usually isn’t a strong bond with or loyalty to the characters.

Third Person, Objective (or cinematic)

Like watching a scene through a camera, the reader can only see and hear the characters, but cannot hear anyone’s thoughts or have direct access to their feelings. This can be useful when wanting to write a book that lacks a feeling of bias (e.g., narrative nonfiction). Readers, however, will have a hard time bonding with characters whose thoughts they can’t hear, and likely will not be as emotionally connected to the story.

Depth of POV

Depth of POV refers to how close the reader is to the viewpoint character telling the story. This will generally be closer for a first-person narrator or a single third-person limited narrator. To attain a greater emotional engagement with the reader, you generally want a closer (or deeper) POV. However, this close POV also brings its own set of challenges.

To learn more about these challenges and how to overcome them, as well as how to work with multiple narrators, join Editor and Creativity Coach Gina Edwards and our guest, Developmental Editor Heather Whitaker at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, for CONVERSATIONS Around the Writers Table. In the second half of the show, you’ll have the chance to ask questions regarding your use of multiple narrators, concerns about potential POV slips, and what depth of POV would be best for your story.

To get the details for how to listen and learn, click HERE.


Heather Whitaker is a developmental editor and writing coach specializing in novels and memoirs, including children’s literature, adult literary, and adult genre fiction. Heather’s approach to editing improves the manuscript and increases its chances of success, but also helps the author become a better writer. In addition to manuscript editing, Heather leads ongoing writers groups and teaches writing classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Florida State University, in Tallahassee, Florida.

Connect with Heather at:

Website: www.heatherwhitaker.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/heathersmuse
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Heather-Whitaker-Editor-and-Writing-Coach-314170898675804/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/heather-whitaker-15099282

 

Refill Your Creative Well

Last week, I wrote about post-publication depression, then received feedback from several authors who have indeed faced something that feels like depression after they finished writing their books or published them. This week, I offer an alternative view, a reframing of what this experience, these feelings, may be.


What if the sensations that some authors experience after publication (or after any major milestone in a passion project)—low energy, trouble concentrating, decreased self-esteem, increased anxieties—what if these indications that highly resemble depression are actually something entirely different? Can you consider for a moment that they are completely normal? And, indeed, should be expected at this stage of the creative process? Best of all, what if there are simple things that can be done about them?

We invest time—weeks, months, years—in our passion projects. Often we invest our money too. Most surely, we invest our emotions. When we create, when we write, we are, in effect, giving birth, playing creator. God-like, we build worlds, develop people we call characters, share intimate and detailed stories of our lives, attempt to parse out some meaning from it all. What we create and write is a piece of us and when it is done, something within us can seem missing. After the act of creating, we can feel as though something vital has been lopped off or that everything we had in us has now been poured out of us and into that project. Our well of creativity is drained dry.

During massive periods of productivity, we empty our souls. So the feelings characterized as “depression” in last week’s blog article could simply be our creative well needing to be refilled. The tiredness, lack of focus, increased self-doubt, and other emotions and thoughts that result after intense creative periods often can be alleviated by a simple refilling of the well.

How do we refill our creative wells?

While the exact prescription is different for every artist and writer, the remedy can be found in what inspires us. Those feelings that resemble depression are an invitation to reignite our souls. Consider them as no-holds-barred permission to do what inspires you and brings you joy. Go to a movie, see a ballet, read the novel that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months while you were writing yours, fingerpaint with your grandkids, go sailing with your spouse, decorate your den, put on your rollerskates, go for a hike in the woods or take a leisurely stroll down the beach—find something, anything, that gives you joy and do it. Because . . .

When we re-engage with the things that light our creative fire, there is little room for the rest.

What do you do to refill your creative well? Please share in the comments below.


Please recognize that I am in no way a medical or mental health expert, and this information is not intended to diagnose or to recommend any type of treatment. If you believe you suffer from depression, please seek assistance from a qualified professional.

Is Post-Publication “Depression” a Given for First-Time Authors?

Culling my files recently for idea-notes, I came across an unpublished article that I wrote nearly three years ago. In our last blog post (My Book, My Daughter), artist and author Licia Berry shared her story of nearly abandoning her book after publication, so I was curious about how the experiences of the authors in this article might parallel with or contrast to her story.

When an author finishes the writing and/or publication of a book, the natural, ensuing question is, what’s next? Typing THE END is not the last step, nor is passing the manuscript to your editor, or clicking the “upload” button on CreateSpace.

There are many answers to the question of “What’s next?” which often lead to more questions and options. Does the author move on to the next manuscript? take a total writing break? temporarily delay new writing to focus on marketing this book?

But maybe we attempt to heed our responses prematurely. Perhaps a pause is necessary, not to attend to a lengthy list of non-writing to-do’s, but for tending to the emotions that are bound to present themselves when championing any effort that requires us to be open and vulnerable—any creative endeavor.

The discussions I had with two authors three years ago, which lead me to writing the article below, caused me to contemplate this question: Is it a given that first-time authors will go into something resembling depression after they publish their first book?


On consecutive days this week, I had separate conversations with two authors who recently self-published their first novels. One author spoke about her low expectations for success—not because her book is bad, but because she realizes she doesn’t yet have a following. She is realistic about being an unknown author putting her manuscript out into a sea of other works that are seeking readers. She is just beginning to build her “platform” from which she can eventually build a community of followers who will anticipate her next book.

She is rightly proud of her book. One that began years ago when publishing was a very different industry. She went the route of seeking agents, waiting interminably for responses. After years, yes, literally, years of waiting, she eventually embraced self-publishing. She prepared herself and her manuscript and got it done. Yet she has given herself no time for celebration. She is moving on, lining up her marketing efforts for book one, moving from outline to manuscript on book two.

So her view is long-term and she has a marketing plan. Her second book in the series is underway. Still, as we finished our lunch, I sensed a fragility not normally evident in her. She seemed distracted, maybe even a little unsettled.

The second author just published the first book in her series, too, one that took her less than a year to write, and she is already well into writing the third one. She tells me she promised herself before publication that her expectations for sales of the first novel would not be inflated, unreasonable. She would not allow herself high hopes. Although she has had a successful blog, she too is an unknown novelist among many. She felt she needed to be realistic with herself.

“But when it was done,” she said, “I realized that I must have had expectations. It’s like postpartum depression. I guess I thought somehow that my life would change after my book came out.”

This younger author also had sought out an agent. She succeeded, but eventually ended the relationship after a year without a publication contract. She had not experienced the endless waiting to hear from the agent(s) that the first author had, so, at first, she toyed with the idea of trying the traditional route again. In the end, she did not, but it still took her a while to shift to the idea of self-publishing.

Both of these authors are following the sage advice of experienced writers who say that when you finish one project, you should already have another project underway. So one is focusing on marketing; the other, now that she is finally a published author, is seeking “the next big thing” in her life.

Circumstances that led them to lives of writing, their writing processes, and their eventual paths to publication have been quite different. But in these conversations with them, I saw a similarity in their after-publication demeanor that I can only attribute to a sort of “letdown.” I don’t have the right or the credentials to label these authors as “depressed,” but certainly each has been changed deep to her core, even if just temporarily, by the experience of publishing the first book.

What has been your experience and emotion after publication? Is there a letdown or a relief? Would you label it depression, elation, or something else? How did you manage it? Did it happen again after your second book?

I’d love to hear from you—both first-time and veteran authors.