Ch. 3: Your Book Starts Here (Developing a Writing Practice)

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. --T.S. Elliot

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. –T.S. Elliot

To continue reading this post on my new site, click here.

I’ve been traveling a lot and starting a new side business and, well, basically I’ve watched the good writing practice that I did have plummet to the depths of nowhere. Am I still a writer? In my world, stress is a creativity killer and I’ve had way to much of it so I haven’t even had time to stop and think about how I feel these days, much less write!

I don’t just need a new writing practice, I need one. Period.  (Trumpets start, and entering from the wings: Chapter 3 of Your Book Starts Here, Developing a Writing Practice.) Hello, good timing. Welcome. You can have center stage. (In case you missed it, here’s where you can find my posts about chapter 1 and chapter 2.)

So let’s jump in.

Wise Words from Author Mary Carroll Moore

“Few books arrive fully formed,” writes Mary Carroll Moore, and it “takes the same everyday hard work that tennis players put in practicing their volleys, violinists their scale.”

Ah yes. Discipline. Repetition. Those same small steps day in and day out are the ones that lead to huge changes. After all, take your teeth for instance. You spend those 2+ minutes in the morning, and again at night, and 30 or 40 years down the road you’re not paying for fillings and root canals and gum disease treatments. Same with writing. Even 15 minutes a day could produce a book within a year.

The Professional Writer’s Schedule

Professional Writer's Schedule

Professional Writer’s Schedule

One of my absolute favorite books on writing (and a most enjoyable read!) is Stephen King’s On WritingMoore also recommends it and writes that to find the professional writer’s schedule, we need to:

  1. let go of expectations
  2. find the joy
  3. find the practice (the key!)

Experiment

One exercise she gives is to EXPERIMENT with writing times and locations over the course of 1 week and while I think this is a great idea, I’m traveling so much over the next few months and won’t be in one space long enough to figure out if it’s the best writing space for me. I will, however, take note of places I write and the time of day when I catch that creative wave. 🙂 Today, I downloaded the app Jiffy for this very reason. It’s AWESOME and you can read more about it below.

Finding Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record

Side Note from Your Book Starts Here: Some of my favorite articles about productivity for writers are by author Susan Dennard (who wrote the lovely Something Strange and Deadly series). It’s really worth spending some time with these articles if you are 1) looking to be more productive with your writing, and 2) want to develop the habits that will set you up for success. You can find her introduction to the Productivity Pyramid here. From there you can find links to further breakdowns of her pyramid: Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record.

I discovered this pyramid back in January and found Ritual and Routine to be particularly helpful with setting up new habits and perimeters in my writing schedule. I had just moved halfway around the world and finding routines and rituals anchored me in my new home! I went from not being focused at all, to having a daily routine which included: morning contemplation, making coffee and opening the laptop by 7 AM, and excluding ALL connection with the outside world during my two morning writing stints. No emailing, social media or checking-of-thy-computer until lunch time every day. It was weird at first. I didn’t realize that for the last bazillion years I was in the ritual of checking messages on my phone before my second eye opened. But, I started leaving my phone charging downstairs and that helped me break the habit. And I have to tell ya, waiting until lunchtime to check messages is fun! Remember when getting emails was fun? Well, when you don’t check them every minute or two, it is really fun. Anywho, my morning routine became 2 writing sessions of 90 minutes each, with a 30 minute break in between them. I can’t recommend the system enough. It was a life changer! And since I’m traveling so much over the next few months and back to having no ritual and routine these days, I’m going to refresh them myself and see if I can find some good practices in the midst of the chaos!

And if you do find that you want to explore the Productivity Pyramid a little more and learn
about when you’re most creative, check out this amazing app called Jiffy. I just started tracking my productivity today with it. Basically, you can put all of your projects (or anything you spend time on) in the app and each has their own timer. So at the end of the day (or week, month, year, etc.), you can see where your time went. I’m curious to see if I’m meeting my goals on some projects that I’m involved in and learn what times of the day I work on different things.

Finding a Rhythm with 10 Minutes a Day

As Moore says, there are different ways to gauge our practice. Time of day or meeting a certain word count, as Ernest Hemingway did, are a couple of ways. It’s all about finding your own rhythm and we all have different ways of finding it.

As Moore says, “Finding your rhythm and honoring your practice will slowly grow your confidence in your commitment to your craft.”

So, trusting ourselves and the writing practice we’ve committed to = delivering successful results = gaining stamina = momentum. And once the momentum happens, a finished product is within sight!

Moore says to start small. Even 10 minutes a day for the first couple of weeks can build the trust we need in ourselves to establish a good practice.

10 minutes.

Many years ago I heard a nutrition expert speak about the importance of exercising daily, to which I thought, realllllllyyy… everyday??? To which he said oh yes, everyday. BUT the clincher was that you didn’t have to kill yourself everyday with hours of exercise. It’s about developing the habit. He said that even walking a half hour every morning would be nearly 4 hours at the end of the week, which adds up to more than 200 hours of exercise at the end of the year. That is guarenteed to change your life! Much like starting with that 10 minutes of writing a day.

Moore goes on to discuss the common sabotages of a good writing practice and even exercises for discovering them and fixing it. She also gets into the healthy aspect of writing and how we can recognize this transformation in our own characters. Good stuff!

Starting a Writing Practice

My favorite exercise from the book is this: Start a Writing Practice by writing for 10 minutes everyday for the next three weeks. Pick a time and commit to writing for 10 minutes during that time every day. 10 minutes x 3 weeks = 3.5 hours! Yes, I can do this. Here’s the breakdown:

Week 1: freewrites

Week 2: (Day 1: free-write list of possible topics for book) (Day 2-7: pick 1 off the list each day and do a free-write about it)

Week 3: blend weeks 1 and 2 by taking a topic and adding observations on things you felt, saw, experienced over the week

That’s all for now. I’ll be pausing here for the next three weeks (but still posting about other things) as I delve into this new writing practice and I’ll share my thoughts along the way. After, I’ll crack open the book and move on to chapter 4: Listening to the Inner Critic.

Do you have thoughts to share about your writing practice? What sets you up for success? Please share in the comments below! 🙂

In case you missed it, I started a Literary Map of New Orleans that marks key spots when the likes of Hemingway, Faulkner and Tennessee Williams wrote, slept and knocked back a few. Check it out here! And drop me a line if you have something to add to it!

Until next time,

Ellie

Articles, Links, Books and Music for Inspiration:

Kissing in the Rain by Patrick Doyle

Love, love love this one! Two Minutes to Four and Reunited (featuring Lana Del Ray)

Death Bed from Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack

Pienso en Ti by Shakira (probably my favorite song ever by Shakira, from the Soundtrack to                Love in the Time of Cholera

Another fav: Jake’s First Flight from Avatar

An old favorite: Goa from the Bourne Supremacy movie

The book I’m following through these posts is Your Book Starts Here.

Book I (still) reading and loving: The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

LISTerati: 10 Quotes about Showing vs. Telling

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov

“Show, don’t tell!” I can hear my first writing teacher belt out before our in-class writing assignments. And if you’ve ever read the old letter that David Mamet wrote to the writers of the Unit, you’re probably certain that telling must be illegal. But, everything has it’s place and this is no different.

Telling actually tells us what’s going on, where we are, and can move the story along. Showing gives us the viceral, emotional response to what’s going on. It’s where the five senses are drawn upon, where we sink into a scene and lose ourselves. It’s all about striking the right balance between the two.

What I’m learning from chapter 2 of Mary Carroll Moore’s book, Your Book Starts Here, is that Outer Story is about telling and Inner Story is about showing. However, if you find yourself in the doomed Land of Exposition, “telling” too much, or need some inspiration or a reminder about “showing,” you’ll enjoy this list of quotes from famous authors who believe that the ability to “show” should be in every writers’ toolbox.

1. “An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” -Stephen King

2. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please, will you do my job for me?” -C. S. Lewis

3. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov
Yes, yes, yes, we hear you Chekhov! I love this example; it’s clear and to the point. You can find a wonderful breakdown of this quote here.

4. “Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted.” – James Scott Bell

5. Notes: This scene was clipped from Chapter 11 “Complications.” It bugged me to remove it, but I couldn’t put my finger on why that was, so I let it go. When it was too late to put it back, I finally realized what was bothering me. Though I refer to Bella’s clumsiness in gym several times, I never really show it in action. This was the one time that Edward was “watching,” and thus the natural place to showcase that clumsiness. Ha ha.” -Stephanie Meyer

6. “Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.”  -Ernest Hemingway

7. If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. -Ernest Hemingway

This one’s probably my favorite Hemingway quote. I’ve found it to be true many times over when standing back for a closer look at my own work. If you want more of Hemingway’s tips for writers and an elegant, detailed description of his writing space in Cuba, check out  my favorite clips in this post. (And there are links to the full interview, too.)

8. Any dickhead with a bluesuit can be (and is) taught to say “make it clearer”, and “I want to know more about him”. When you’ve made it so clear that even this bluesuited penguin is happy, both you and he or she will be out of a job. [..] any dickhead, as above, can write, “but, Jim, if we don’t assassinate the prime minister in the next scene, all Europe will be engulfed in flame”.  –David Mamet’s master class memo to the writers of The Unit

 Yes, it’s crude, blunt, even offensive to some. But it’s also brilliant.

9. “When describing nature, a writer should seize upon small details, arranging them so that the reader will see an image in his mind after he closes his eyes. For instance: you will capture the truth of a moonlit night if you’ll write that a gleam like starlight shone from the pieces of a broken bottle, and then the dark, plump shadow of a dog or wolf appeared. You will bring life to nature only if you don’t shrink from similes that liken its activities to those of humankind.” (Letter to Alexander Chekhov, May 10, 1886) -Anton Chekhov

Yes! We can see the ‘dark, plump shadow of a dog or wolf.’

10. “Don’t lecture your reader; she won’t believe you. Give her the story action, character thoughts, feelings, and sense impressions as the character would experience them in real life. Let her live the story for herself as she lives real life, by experience.” -Jack M. Bickham

A few links to wrap it up:

  • If you’re looking for a more detailed explanation of Showing vs. Telling, check out this post. The writer does a brilliant job of explaining it.
  • Another really good one from The Beginning Writer blog.
  • My post with my Hemingway quotes can be found here.
  • You can follow my journey through Mary Carroll Moore’s book, Your Book Starts Here, here.
  • You can purchase Your Book Starts Here at Amazon.
  • If you want more wisdom from Stephen King, his book, On Writing, is one of my favorites ever. Some of the best advice on the craft of writing and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

What are your thoughts about Showing vs. Telling? Do you have a favorite example to share? You can leave in the comments section below!

Happy Writing,

Ellie

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Outlining: the “W” Storyboard

W Storyboard

W Storyboard

The “W” Storyboard… one of my favs. As I’ve mentioned, I first discovered the “W” Storyboard from author Mary Carroll Moore. It set off a lot of lightbulbs and really helped me find the hero’s journey. I discovered through using this storyboard that my MC was “offstage” for part of the story and by the time I finished, he was front row and center! (I’m also working through/blogging my journey through Mary Carroll Moore’s book, Your Book Starts Here, if you’re interested in joining me or reading about it). So here we go…

What is the “W” Storyboard?

The “W” Storyboard is a visual map of your story, with the story being marked along the three act structure. The “W” looks something like this picture, which I found on Pinterest (note: it hasn’t been filled in):

W Storyboard

W Storyboard

Starting where you would if you were writing the letter “W” is the inciting incident (triggering event). This is where your story begins. As you follow the first leg down, the problems are being set and tensions rise. At the bottom of the first leg is the first crisis moment (turning point)  that propels us into act 2 and calls the hero to action.

The second leg of the “W” is traveling upward and it’s during this time that the problem is being resolved. Things may continue to get better. A new character may show up. But at the top of Act 2, another conflict happens (pop moment) and pushes us into the second half of act two (the next leg of the “W”), where things spiral to the lowest point. Problems deepen and at the bottom of that leg, it is the hero’s lowest point.

The final leg of the “W” travels upward. This is act 3, where the problems resolve. Towards the top of act 3, there’s an “epiphany moment,” which is usually when the the hero has an inner resolution of some kind. Maybe they understand something in a new way. At the top of this leg is the resolution (or end).

There are two things I love about the “W”:

  1. The shape of the “W” visually follows the main rise and fall that happens in the story.
  2. You can use the “W” storyboard in many different ways. Yes, it’s great to chart your hero’s journey, but you can also plot another character’s journey along it which is super helpful for finding the holes in your story and making sure events and characters intersect when they’re supposed to.

When  I first plotted my story on one of these, I was shocked/appauled/relieved that my main character was nearly missing from the second half of act 2! (Appauled that I didn’t catch any of this in my first draft, relieved that I found out why my story seemed to go South in act 2.) Somehow a supporting character had found their way into the center of the story and didn’t want to leave the stage!

Nowadays, I revisit the “W” often, as in every few scenes often. I can adapt and make changes through the writing process, but also keep the bird’s eye view.

How to Plot Your Story on the “W” Storyboard

There are a number of ways to add your plot points to the “W” storyboard. As you’ll see in this picture, which I found on Carrot Ranch, post-it notes are a wonderful option:

Post-It Notes on

Post-It Notes on “W” Storyboard

For my “W” I use the entire floor of my living room and place all my notecards on the floor, following the “W” shape. (For my information about how I outline using notecards, go here). By starting with notecards and truly dumping every possible event onto them, then placing them along the “W” storyboard, I was able to quickly elliminate the unneccessary points. It took me a looonnngg time to complete the cards and form the “W,” but it was soooo worth it for getting to the essence of my story. By the time I was finished, my hero was center stage, the whole way through!

If you want to learn more about the “W,” Mary Carroll Moore has a wonderful lecture on the “W” storyboard and you can see it here.

Do you have tips to share about storyboarding? Do you use the “W” or recommend something else? Drop a comment below if you like.

Until next time, happy writing to You,

Ellie

What I’m listening to this week:

Taylor Davis’ violin version of Now We are Free (beautiful!)

Craig Armstrong’s Romeo & Juliet (balcony scene)

Love this piano rendition of Karthik Krish’s Titanic

To read this article and many more, hop over to my new site!

Ch. 1 of Your Book Starts Here (A Conversation with My Book)

A long while ago, someone told me about a class they’d taken with Mary Carroll Moore, author of many, many books, including this one to the right, Your Book Starts Here: Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book. I bought it back then, but it’s been sitting on my shelf, waiting patiently for me to open it up. And last week, I did! After Camp NaNoWriMo (you can read more about my experience here), I’ve been back at the drawing board, revisiting my notecards, reading a ton, and decided that I need a more guided approach to writing (and finishing!) my book. While thinking about this, I looked at my shelf and saw it, and decided that the day had come to crack it open!

Ahhh. I already feel better. Relieved! Supported! Hooray!

I’ll be writing my thoughts and big takeaways chapter by chapter, so if you want to follow along with me over the next couple of months, you can get a copy of her book here. It’s also available on kindle, but the paperback has large pages (great for side notes!) and that’s what I have and recommend. I’ll also include other material (blog posts, books, thoughts) on the subject of each chapter, if it applies.

So without further ado…

Chapter 1: Your Book Starts Here (A Conversation with My Book)

Nothing like delving into a new book about writing and oh how I need it! Here’s a brief overview of what I got from chapter 1:

The book is broken up into 3 parts:

  1. plan
  2. write
  3. develop

I’m mostly interested in the plan and write part and that’s what I’m committed to writing about with these posts. However, depending on where I am with my own project, I may venture into the third part.

What I love about this book is that the author seamlessly weaves stories about other writers who overcame obstacles as the made their way through a project. Inspiring? Yes!

There are companion writing exercises for each section so that even in chapter 1, I’m already getting to practice what I’m learning. Learning is good, but hey, experience is everything. In chapter 1, I got to have a “conversation” with my book, through a list of guided questions. I got so much out of this exercise. As I mentioned in my post about Camp NaNoWriMo, I worked myself into a corner. This exercise of conversing with my book allowed me to not figure out how to leave the corner, but actually put me in the center of the room. New perspective, new inspiration and I found a new character through this! I also got to use the creative imagination and make a plan for immediate next steps. Yes!

That’s all for now from Your Book Starts Here. So far so good. In chapter 2, I’ll be reading about the outer and inner story, what’s happening and how it’s bringing meaning to my characters.

Side Note Mary Carroll Moore is the one who I learned about the magical “W” storyboard from. You can see a wonderful video she made about it here. And I’ll get into my deep love for the “W” in a later post, which mostly has to do with my being a visual person who loves maps and storyboards.

Other Journaling Exercises for Communicating with Your Story

I love this concept of using the imagination (visualizing) to communicate with your book, story, script, characters, setting, etc. Several years ago, when I was in a writing class, we did an entire class on visualizing and journaling with characters and story. Here are two of my favorites:

  • Write a Q & A with your main character. This can be with any character in your story, or even with the setting or time period. You write a question, then immediately follow with the answer from that character. No stalling, this is a free write and should keep moving (much like the morning pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). The margin literally has alternating “Q” and “A” (you are the interviewer (Q) and your character/setting/time period is the one answering (A). It can be very effective if you stay in the flow. It certainly took me to some unsuspecting places.
  • Go to the End and Look Back: For this exercise, you visualize being at the end of your book/script/poem (eyes closed if you prefer), and look back on how you got there. Spend some time moving back in time through each point of your story and when you get to where you are now, open your eyes and write how you got there. You can also pause between each point, write it down, then close your eyes and visualize getting to the next previous point. Either way works, it’s a matter of preference. The important point is to start at the end and move back in time. This can also be very helpful if you’re stumped over a particular character or plot point. You can use the exercise to just work through that one area.

That wraps it up for now. Do you have some favorite journaling or visualization exercises for writing? Please share in the comments below if you like!

Ellie

Articles, Links and Music for Inspiration:

The book I’m following through these posts is Your Book Starts Here.

A detailed article about the “W” storyboard can be found here.

Here is Mary Carroll Moore’s video about the “W” Storyboard.

This song doesn’t fall under my usual preference for writing, but I’m soooo loving it. It’s called Lucky, by Red Penny and you can listen here.

Check out this article and many more on my new site here!