Fearless Writing: Critiques and Workshopping

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The theme of this book I am studying is that writing is personal and your work will never please anyone (so stop trying.) As I dive further into the pages of this work I am feeling myself gain confidence as a writer. I’m worrying far less about what people think and I am embracing writing for my own pleasure.

There are obvious benefits for allowing others to critique your writing.

They can help a piece to be accurate in conveying our intended emotions and tension. Each story first created in our minds is never the one another reads. Everyone carries their lives when they read. Sometimes it is a struggle to step out of our own mind in order to convey a story the way we intend to.

Giving someone permission to comment on the accuracy of your work is helpful. It is a healthy exchange so long as you keep the perspective that you are not your story.  Advice may critique our work, but it does not critique the writer.

So write what you are curious about–write what you love. Then let another in on the experience.

Practice: Get into a workshop

I’ve workshopped a few of my pieces in online critique groups and in live groups at my local SCBWI. It is helpful to do so with the right mindset. This year I want to jump back into more critique groups and workshops and not allow my ego to respond to negative or positive feedback.

In the past I have gained immense wisdom from published authors that I continue to carry with me every time I write.

Put your work out there too!

The Ameri Brit Mom

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Fearless Writing: Write What You Love

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“Now here we are, this attractive idea and me, going somewhere together, and it doesn’t matter at all that I don’t know the destination, because I’m already someplace I want to be.” (Kenower 49)

The most successful writers are those who love the stories they write. They don’t write to someone else’s standards or for any expectations. They don’t measure their success by followers, royalties, or sales. No, they are content with the production of something they love.

When we use other people to create the standard for our writing we forfeit our happiness. Choosing to focus on craft over passion turns a hobby into a job and quickly puts out the fire that brings us back to the page.

Each story we commit to is like a marriage. There are days full of elation and all the things of fairy tales, but more often there are challenges and struggles. None of us would face life with just anyone and stick it out unless we truly loved our partner. It’s the same way with a story. If we are choosing to write something for anyone else and not because we love it then we will quickly find ourselves signing divorce papers with the story and going our separate ways.

So if you love to read stories about Kung-Fu pirates write about them.

If you love to create southern recipes write them.

If you love graphic novels about garbage men, then go for it.

Write about what your mind keeps returning to. Each time you sit down to write make it something that you are excited about. Let curiosity guide your tales. Don’t get caught up in the promise of money or fame. Get caught up in writing your passion.

(Side note- I follow a very famous children’s author on Facebook who is asking for donations this Christmas to pay her bills. So if you are waiting on a story to pay your bills–they won’t. This particular author has many, many best sellers.)

Practice: If I could tell only one story what would it be?

I love to read stories that restore my faith in humanity. I read a lot of YA fiction as an English teacher…there’s so much to love and learn from teen protagonists.

Most recently I’ve loved The Hate U Give, All American Boys, When We Collided, and Words in Deep Blue.

When I am reading a book that reminds me that this world is a good place full of amazing people I am drawn in. I hate to leave those characters on the final page. They become friends because they’ve spoken to my soul.

So if I could only tell one story it would be similar to this.

It would be one where the teen protagonist overcomes hate or prejudice. Where love wins and society is changed. It would be a tale that brings readers together with a common experience of love and where the last page isn’t the end of a story, but the beginning of a journey for the person who just finished it.

One day you may get to see some of my manuscripts turned into a novel.

But if not, if nothing ever comes of them I will have the pleasure of meeting my characters myself. Writing cannot be about agents, publishers, or readers. I will never be happy if that is the case. I cannot control those things. All I have control over is my own heart and diligence. And if I do not love my own stories then the world never will either.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Fearless Writing: A Writer’s Worst Fear

A couple of years ago I did a chapter-by-chapter review of several different books on writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is still one of my very favorite writing books. It’s been a while, but nine months after giving birth I am starting to feel like myself and ready to get back in the habit of writing on a regular basis. I ran to my bookshelf to Fearless Writing, a book I received last Christmas but haven’t had a chance to read yet.

Fearless Writing was written by William Kenower, Editor in Chief of Author magazine, he is most known for his teaching on the craft of writing. This book focuses less on craft and more on the thought-process necessary to develop in order to be a successful storyteller.

I look forward to re-establishing a weekly routine of cracking open a good book, sharing some thoughts, and practicing new skills. I will approach each week with some thoughts I had while reading the chapter and then I will also post my 5 minute practice that follows the prompt at the end of the chapter. I hope that these posts inspire you as a writer. Feel free to follow along with the prompts and if you should post in response on your own page I’d love for you to send me a link in the comments.

Welcome to Chapter 1.

A Writer’s Worst Fear

Most writers fight a battle before they ever touch pen to paper or open a new document on their computer. For some, the battle is in finding the time and space conducive for writing. But more often than not the battle is one waged within the mind of the writer. Its weapon of choice is doubt and it attacks every creative thought or ambition before it lands on the page.

The biggest fear affecting writers is What will other people think of my work?

It feels great to receive positive feedback. But when readers aren’t singing your praises after a heartfelt post, story, or chapter it can damage the confidence of the mind behind its creation.

Rejection is part of the process. If your writing is intended for anyone else to see there will be rejection–there is no question about it.

Writing fearlessly is all about approaching fears in a new way. Instead of allowing fear stifle your creativity use it to propel your writing into bold confidence. Start your writing with accepting the fact that someone will dislike what you have to say, but don’t let that become an excuse for censuring your creativity.

Writing is a highly personal venture.

Every writer picks up the pen with a different purpose. Every reader approaches a piece with their own experience and lens as well.

Getting beyond fear already puts you at a 1-0 record. And when you start your writing session with the mentality of a champion then fear is pushed down to its healthy dwelling place and your imagination has the license to embrace every idea.

5 Minute Practice- Create two characters. One is a confident, experienced writer while the other is struggling. Through their conversation offer advice to the struggling character. Then heed that advice yourself.

“Stacey, it’s so good to see you!” Mel reached around her friend’s back balancing the paper cup in her hand. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Stacey’s face emitted a small smile contrasting with that of her friend. Through layers of clothes and a large coat Stacey allowed the warmth of her friend’s embrace to throw off a little of the weight she was bearing that morning on the ride over to the coffee shop.

“Go ahead and order. I’ll find us a table.” Mel spoke as she left Stacey at the counter in search of an empty corner of the shop for the two to sit down and work.

What am I doing here? Stacey thought to herself. It’s been months since I’ve thought about writing. Why did I agree to meet Mel?

She allowed her eyes to browse the menu and settled on an order of hashbrowns, since she skipped breakfast, and a hot mocha to sip on as she worked. After placing her order Stacey joined Mel at a small table in the corner of the shop.

“Oh, it’s been so long. Tell me what is going on. How are the kids?” Mel jumped right in as Stacey peeled off her dark coat and pulled her laptop from her secondhand bag.

“The kids are great. Bill has them this morning so let’s hope they survive.” Stacey pretended that had been a joke and not the reality of her thoughts on the ride over. This was the first time she left Bill alone with both girls since Becca had been born nine weeks earlier.

“I’m sure all is well, Mama.” Mel chuckled. “I’m just so happy you could escape for a little girl time.” Mel pushed her paper cup to her lips as the waitress approached with Stacey’s order.

“I hope you don’t mind I ordered some food. I’m starving.” Stacey said apprehensively.

“Not at all. I get it.” Mel smiled. “So tell me about your work. Any new chapters since we’ve spoken?”

“Well, there isn’t much to tell.” Stacey began as she picked up her fork and weaved it through the shredded hash browns. “I haven’t powered-up my laptop in three months. Let’s hope I still have the magic today.” She placed a hand on the closed computer in front of her. The companionship she once shared with the device had been replaced by a layer of dust that she only removed that morning before packing up for the date.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Stacey. And I’m sure as soon as you are ready all of your magic will return. I love your work and I cannot wait to read something new.” Mel encouraged.

Stacey smiled back doubt and shoved her mouth with a forkful of potatoes.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. We all go through seasons and even the best authors need some time away. Having a baby is a perfect excuse for taking a breather. It’s not like you’ve been sitting at home doing nothing. You’ve had a baby to feed and care for. I think you will find that the confidence will return and you’ll be back into it very shortly. How about coming with me this week to Writing Group? I’m sure seeing everyone again will help.”

The Ameri Brit Mom

Lesson From an Aspiring Author: ONE Question

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You may be wondering where I’ve run off to. My posting schedule has been on hiatus and it’s been weeks since I last talked writing with you. Don’t fear–I haven’t given up on my blog and its readers, however, it has been a struggle to balance blogging with intensive personal projects. Since the last time I provided a lesson I have started a new  manuscript, been accepted to write published book reviews, met non-fiction picture book writer Linda Stanek, and had the first two chapters of my first book critiqued by a free-lance editor.

The writing life is a busy life.

One thing I strive to do despite the high demands for my time is to continue to educate myself on craft. Before plot and characters can impact readers I have to be sure that my craft is on-point. I love running into great books on craft at the bookstore. While some of you may think books about writing sound about as dry as the Sahara, I find joy and passion in studying writing.

Lately, I’ve been reading through the Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Writing Fiction. It is a practical guide from New York’s acclaimed writing school. As I read through the book it helps with my character descriptions and plot development. One thing that I’ve focused on in my second manuscript is the idea of one major dramatic question.

Each work of fiction should be written to answer ONE pressing question. The answer to that question is what drives your reader through the pages of the book. Their hunt to know how the question will be resolved should guide the author’s writing. Stepping outside of the information pertinent the question bores readers, and concluding your story without answering the question reader’s asked throughout will leave them confused by what the book was really about.

I started to think about some of my favorite books and how the one question is revealed and answered in each work.

In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, the question is: Will Liesel survive the war in Molching? This question arises early on as the narrator for the novel is Death and from its onset, the reader knows someone is about to die. Each page turn is a step closer to the impending Death promised in the first pages.

In The Selection by Kiera Cass, the question is: Will America be the next Queen of Illea? This question transcends the first three books of the series. At times, it seems the answer is clear, but other times the unpredictable nature of the protagonist leaves the reader wondering.

In Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, the question is: Can Lynn survive on her own in a world without water? From its earliest pages this book describes life in a post-apocalyptic world where people are dying in a war for water. Lynn’s mother has been her rock and helped her to defend their pond from the thirsty. When Lynn’s mother is killed Lynn is faced with the challenge of survival on her own. This conflict-packed story finds its roots in the major dramatic question and all of the plot returns back to the essence of that question.

What are you writing? What’s your ONE question?

The Ameri Brit Mom

Lesson From an Aspiring Author: YA Seminar

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Last weekend my chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) hosted authors Kelly Barson and Mindy McGinnis. The topic for the day was characterization in YA and Middle Grade fiction. It was such a fun time at the Upper Arlington Library surrounded by writers and illustrators from all points in their professions. I love any chance to absorb the wisdom of other writers. Here is a break down of the top 3 things I learned about writing characters from Mindy and Kelly:

1. Create Likable Characters

At the meeting Kelly Barson provided us a list of character traits sorted by their degree of likability. One thing you want to be sure of is the fact that your main character is liked by most. Giving them only likable traits will create a perfect character and everyone hates perfect people. The trick to creating a likable character is to balance positive traits with negative traits to create a person who is relatable for the reader. Unfortunately, the chart was copyrighted so I cannot provide that for you, but if you are wondering if you have likable characters a quick google search on character traits can be helpful. Just remember: Every character should be balanced.

2. When it Comes to Backstory, Use Caution!

I did an entire post last weekend about the importance of leaving the backstory out of the first chapter. I had no idea it would be a topic touched on in depth during the meeting. The reason that backstory isn’t always necessary is because it stalls the plot. If you find that background is needed for your particular story be sure to feather it in. You shouldn’t have full pages of backstory. Sometimes a single sentence can be extremely telling about something that happened in the past.

An example from a short story I’m currently crafting: “The last time she was this upset was before Wilson’s accident.”

This sentence explains that the upset woman has been upset before. We know that something happened to Wilson, and if you read my entire short story that would all make a lot more sense. This single sentence reveals a lot about the characters without going back and explaining that Wilson was the main character’s older brother who died from a drug overdose a few years ago. I didn’t have to relay the scene. I trust my reader will make the connections using the rest of the story. A good acronym I heard at the meeting was RUE. It should serve as a reminder to you as an author: RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN.

3. Young Adult is About Children NOT For Children

When I started to cross over to Young Adult Fiction I struggled with it for a few weeks. I have an adult manuscript, but I found myself drawn to YA books and YA plots in my own writing. My struggle was a selfish one. I wondered, “Will people think I am less of a writer if I choose to write for a young adult audience?” Those musings didn’t last long because after my first workshopped piece I had my answer.

All of these years searching for my author voice culminated in my first YA piece.

It was an age group I understood and plots I could really explain. I’m a high school teacher and I live five days of the week in a YA world. I see young people who feel alone. I see young people struggling with pain. I see young people eager for new experiences. That is what helped me in my decision to focus more on YA. I don’t consider my writing to be exclusively for children. I just know that we were all at our rawest in our young adult years and those emotions and those scenarios we faced make for some of the best stories. YA isn’t for children. It is about children. And I am glad to say that the next manuscript I am working on is a YA piece.

 

Both Mindy McGinnis and Kelly A. Barson are phenomenal writers. I have interacted with Mindy on several occasions. My students read her first book Not a Drop to Drink in my English class. She was a guest speaker at our school last year as a result of the class reading. Also, for Christmas my husband sent her portions of my manuscript and I received her direct feedback. She is actually the person who suggested the SCBWI and I am so thankful she did.

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The Ameri Brit Mom

Five Minute Friday: Safe

This week the topic for the Five Minute Friday link-up post is Safe. What is a link-up? Essentially a link-up is when you join other bloggers and write on a similar topic. You share your blog posts with one another and begin conversations via a host site. You can head over to Kate Motaung’s page to check out other entries from inspired bloggers. Here’s my five minutes of uninterrupted, unedited writing on this week’s topic:

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I’m running on a delayed schedule this week as I’ve fallen victim to an intense sinus infection. The weather has been so up and down in Ohio. Two days ago my yard was buried in a blanket of snow and now my sleeves are rolled up and my windows are open and I’m enjoying this springlike day. It’s no wonder my body feels attacked–it’s confused by all this mayhem.

As I’m beginning to feel human again and remember what it is to breathe through my nose, I’m getting back on track.

At the start of the year my husband sent me out of my safe place.

He went behind my back and signed me up for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and forced me to interact with other writers. He sent my manuscript to a highly respected author (without my permission.) As nervous as I was when I found out he had done it I knew it was an act of love that I will be forever grateful for.

If left up to me I would have continued to make excuses as to why I wasn’t ready to let successful authors read my work. But he had confidence that if he gave me a little push that I would make it in the world of professional writers. He kicked me out of my safe place of writing for the few who read my blog or my closest friends and family.

I know that he is always going to be my biggest fan. He reads everything I write and he still cheers me along. He pushes me to do uncomfortable things so that one day my dream will be realized. I’m starting to recognize that stepping out doesn’t mean forgetting about safety. It is necessary. And as long as I have my husband there giving me the confidence to take the next step I will always be safe.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The Smoke We Shared

This winter I took part in a writing contest through my online critique group. The prompt for the story was “Two Worlds” and the word limit was 1500 words. This is the story I entered in that contest.

The Smoke We Shared

By Lauren Sisley

The day we buried Archie was gray.

I had only known him for a few months, but I would never forget him.

“Almost there, Connor.” Bridget turned to me as she drove. She tried hard to be motherly during this time. After my own mother was caught with heroin twelve years ago Bridget became the woman assigned by the state to keep watch over me. “It was a lovely ceremony.” She tried to soothe my anxiety as we entered the grounds lined with tombstones.

I had no words with which to draw up a reply. Bridget gave up and continued the short drive to Archie’s plot without a word.

I watched as the hearse parked beside a red tent. I couldn’t take my eyes off of its cab. Something about the fact that Archie’s body was in the back of that car kept my attention.

Out of the row of chairs under the tent only two were occupied. Bridget sat beside me and grasped my hand as the men dressed in tailored suits brought the casket and set it above a six foot hole. The priest took his spot in front of the casket.

“Please join me in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.” He opened. My eyes did not divert from the oak casket as Bridget joined the priest in repeating a prayer. The words were foreign to me.

“Our Father who art in heaven…”

My mind went back to the first day I met Archie.

It was cold and I had just flunked my Algebra exam. I knew that bringing home the test score would mean undergoing house arrest with Bridget again. I was walking home along my usual route trembling from the frigid temperatures. I reached into the pocket of my coat and felt a small paper tube. I took it out of my pocket and lit it.

Three kids from school approached me from behind. I tried to keep my eyes down as they called after me.

“There’s that freak from school!”

“Yeah, that weird kid that doesn’t talk to anyone.”

There wasn’t enough time to run away. Before I knew it they had caught up.

I didn’t put up much of a fight when one of them punched me across the face. My vision went blurry as I was knocked around a bit more.

“What are you kids doing? Get lost!” I heard a voice from the house behind me shouting. “I’m calling the cops. Get off my property!” I took a few more hits to the face and the boys ran. They made off with my coat and cigarettes.

I laid on the pavement for a few more minutes aching from the beating.

“You alright, kid?” The man asked me. He didn’t touch me or try to help me off the ground. I took a closer look at him and saw that he was in rough shape himself. His face was leathery and scarred. His eyes were sad. Several teeth had fallen out.

“Who are you?” I questioned this stranger.

“Nevermind that. Let’s get you inside. We can call your parents in there.” The weak old man attempted to help me off the sidewalk, but in the end I had to muster the strength myself. We used each other’s bodies as crutches as we made our way up the path into his small home.

Entering his home was like stepping back into the 1940s. It smelled of molasses and his living room had wood paneled walls that were barren except for a crooked wedding photo.

“The telephone is in the bedroom. I’ll fetch it. Take a seat on the sofa.” I lowered myself gently onto his old fashioned sofa. The room was dark and there was no television. Instead, an old radio was standing in the corner of the room. From his bedroom down the hall I could hear him coughing loudly. It sounded painful. At the time I didn’t know that it was caused by the cells metastasizing on his lungs.

A few seconds after his cough I saw his silhouette emerge from the bedroom carrying something that resembled a house phone.

“What’s your house number? I’ll dial for you.”

“Bridget won’t be home. You will have to call her at work.” I answered still a little weak.

He returned ten seconds later brandishing a large book with yellow pages.

“Where she work?” He asked adjusting his bifocals on his nose.

“She cleans offices at Barrel and Dumm’s.” I replied noticing that my lip was bleeding.

The man thumbed through the book struggling to read the small print. Just as he located the number he turned and released another loud bark from his throat.

“You okay?” I questioned.

“I’m fine.” He said as though my question was the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

“Who am I to ask for?”

“Bridget Morris.”

“Yes, may I please speak to a Ms. Morris?” I let myself relax a little into the sofa as I imagined Bridget’s reaction to these recent events. I listened as he assessed my state to Bridget and imagined she was quite frantic on the other end. The man provided Bridget his address and then hung up. “She’ll be here within the hour.” He assured me as he walked the telephone back to his room.

He returned with a pack of cigarettes and turned on the radio as he took a seat in the recliner beside me.

“Want a light?” He offered, but I turned him down. I wasn’t about to smoke if Bridget was on her way. That would add another month to the grounding. We waited for her arrival without speaking. He read the newspaper and I stretched out on the sofa.

I felt at home in the silence.

The doorbell rang thirty minutes after their call. I know this because I watched the arm of the clock on the wall make half a revolution around the dial as I listened to the grossly outdated music on the radio. The man removed his glasses and folded up his paper before opening the door.

“Can I help you?” He asked roughly.

“Yes, I’m Bridget, I believe you have my foster son.” I could hear the fear in her voice.

“Come in. He’s on the sofa. Not much of a talker that one.” He opened the door and pointed toward me.

“Connor!” She gasped as she saw my face.

“Thank you so much, Sir.” She turned toward the man. “Where’s your coat?” She questioned me.

“They got it.”

“Let’s get you home. You’re freezing.” Before we could leave the man went to a closet in the hallway. He brought out an old coat and offered it to me. I tried to decline, but Bridget thanked him and wrapped it around me as we made our way home.

A week later I was wearing a new coat from the thrift shop and decided I would return the old man’s coat on my way home from school. I rang the doorbell and could hear coughing and cursing from within his house.

“Can I help you?” He acted as though he had never met me before.

“Yes, Sir. You let me borrow your coat last week. I just wanted to return it and say thank you.” I stood freezing as we spoke in the doorway.

“Come in.” He ordered. I entered and was met with the familiar smell of molasses. “You don’t look like that same sorry sod was here last week.” He coughed.

“I’m doing much better.” I smiled. He coughed again as he reached into his pocket and brought out a pack of cigarettes.

“Want a light?” He offered the pack to me. This time, I accepted. I reached in and took a paper tube and pulled my own lighter from my pocket. I inhaled and felt myself relax. I took a seat on the sofa where I had laid last week.

“Was that your wife?” I asked motioning my cigarette toward the wedding photo on the wall.

“Ah, yes. Beautiful right until the end.” He took a long puff and let his mind wander back to her. Another loud bark interrupted his memories.

“Are you okay?” I asked again.

He shook his head this time opening up to me about the cancer.

I would stop there six more times over the next two months. Some days he would tell me about his wife or about the war. Other days we would sit in the smoke of silence that we shared.

A few days ago I stood on his porch with my lighter ready. I knocked. No one answered.

“Ambulance left a couple hours ago. Took Archie with ‘em.” An old lady called from across the street. I knew in that moment that he was gone. I turned to walk home and smoked a cigarette in his memory.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

I watched as they lowered Archie into the ground.

 

It is unlawful to plagiarize any of the original work from The Ameri Brit Mom. No permission is given to reuse this text or ideas without written consent.

 

The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction (Week 3)

I’m really enjoying this book about the art of writing Christian Fiction. This is the second book by Jeff Gerke that I have read, and I think the man is a genius.

I am a writer for many reasons. I choose to spend my time articulating stories because I enjoy it. It’s a hobby that I continue to learn from.  So many books out there are to help me become a “flawless” writer. Gerke takes me to a humble, teachable place to show me that there really is no “arrival” as an author.

Writing is a journey much like the one of faith that I’m walking. It’s a lifetime of learning and practicing. It’s a road filled with obstacles and trials. It’s a rewarding hobby. And it’s important to keep an open mind and heart throughout the whole journey.

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Be Teachable

After years of crafting stories and (maybe after publication) it is easy for a writer to feel like they hold all the keys to the craft of writing. Their work is complete. Editing is not necessary. And if you bring up a mistake you might as well be talking to a wall. This is a description of a prideful writer. This is someone who believes that they have arrived at perfection and there is no room for critique or remarks at that destination. These people are hard to work with, and unless they are already successful they rarely attain the goal of publication.

Humility is the key.

Learn to accept advice. Roll with the punches. Don’t deny the fact you are human.

It can be uncomfortable to pour your heart and soul into a project only to be told it is not good enough, but you have a choice. You can choose to heed the advice of someone who has read your work or you can ignore their words and assert that there is nothing wrong with what you have written.

At the end of the road the humble author always wins. Not only do they find themselves achieving big goals, but they also better their craft in the process.

I was at this crossroads a few weeks ago. The book I’ve written was sent to a favorite author of mine. She did some critiquing of my work, and like the student who failed his English essay she sent it back with all of her markings coloring my manuscript red. For a millisecond I contemplated throwing the whole thing away and finding a new hobby. After reading the comments I realized that she was right about many of my mistakes, but none of them were detrimental to the story itself. I had made my fair share of grammatical errors, but I chose to work through them and learn from the process instead of taking a prideful stance against her wisdom.

As a result my story is so much stronger now. What once was a word and story dump is now a refined piece that I am proud of.

Stop Being Teachable

“You cannot please everyone and be a good writer.” (Gerke 30)

After much learning about fiction writing we eventually get to a place where we have to start producing. For some, it can be crippling when they look at the long list of dos and don’ts. Many rules are contradictory to one another and the fear of messing up can keep you from ever finishing a project.

At some point you need to examine the information you have gathered and decide for yourself what your writing voice will look like. You have to swallow the fear of imperfection and press forward, confident that your informed writing style will appease some group of writers. It’s impossible to adhere to everyone’s advice. Once you reach the point where you are ready to turn out the product you get to make the decision about which critiques you will take into consideration and which you will chose not to include in your edits.

When it comes to forming your own voice consider the books and types of writing you prefer to read. Examine that writer’s style in-depth, and then make some decisions for yourself. Ultimately, a heart of humility is what helps us to develop our style and craft as a writer, but a little confidence can go a long way in uncovering your unique voice.

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Giving, Publication, and The Last Class

If I could sit in a classroom with Anne Lamott at the board it may take a bit of bribery to coerce me into ever leaving that room. As I finished reading Bird by Bird today I was overwhelmed with sadness. I’m sad to have reached the end of her lessons. I’m sad to be through with her instruction. Instead of sitting here writing about what I’ve learned I feel like unwrapping my old cap and gown and playing a little pomp and circumstance.

Having finished this book hasn’t quite earned me the distinction of a master’s degree, but the amount of information I’ve unpacked from this short book is beyond equivalency to most graduate writing courses.

Anne Lamott is a professional in every sense of the word. Her work is profoundly honest and insightful. So much of what I read in this book will continue to resonate with me for as long as I continue to write. If she wasn’t so attached to her privacy I would send her a letter to inform her of how much this book helped to shape me as a writer on my journey to finding my unique writing voice.

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Giving

The first lesson from today’s reading was about what it really means to be a writer. Writing isn’t about gaining for yourself. To write under the notion that it will solve all of your problems is naive. We write to give. We write to bring peace. We write to put into language what so many people feel, but struggle to express. Writing is about giving to others. Our work is a gift to the broader community around us. It is a gift given first to us. But our gift is also one to be shared with others.

Publication

As an unpublished author I oftentimes fall into the trap of believing that publication is the end goal. If one day I could hold a paper stack bound with a cute cover bearing my name as the author then surely all of my dreams will be realized and I will feel complete. Wrong.

Publication comes with its own sets of trials. To be published is to jump through the endless hoops thrown from agents, editors and publishers. The road to publishing is paved with self doubt and rejection. It’s a daunting road that climaxes on a release date that tends to come and go like any other day (or so I hear.)

In this chapter I was forced to refocus myself. To publish my work would be cool, but if that is my true dream I will be left unsatisfied.

The Last Class

Lamott closed this book with the many lessons she hopes her readers take away from her experiences. For me, I really connected with this quote, “devotion and commitment will be [our] own reward, that in dedication to [our] craft [we] will find solace and direction and wisdom and truth and pride.” (Lamott 232)

Above anything else I will take away that writing is about the process. It’s about sitting down and putting words on a page. Day by day and bird by bird.

**If you are interested in receiving a free ARC copy of Bird by Bird directly from The Ameri Brit Mom please fill out this survey. One person who submits to the poll by Saturday January 7, 2017 will receive Bird by Bird in the mail. 

The Ameri Brit Mom

Writing a Present and Finding Your Voice

It sure was nice to take a few days off this week for Christmas. During that time I was able to unplug and enjoy my time with the people I care about so deeply. I received several gifts which I’m sure I’ll be sharing in the upcoming week and many of those thoughtful gifts were ones that encouraged me to hop back on my train of writing.

Usually, I read two chapters from Bird by Bird on Saturdays and post summaries immediately after reading. With the holidays, I’m a little off schedule so although it may be Tuesday it feels an awful lot like a Saturday to me.

I’m nearing the end of the book today and I’m starting a section entitled, “Publication and Other Reasons to Write.”

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Writing a Present

Anne Lamott begins this chapter with, “Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems.” (Lamott 185) The reason she makes this statement is to show that if you are only writing with the goal to be published then you will never be fulfilled. You have to find intrinsic reasons to write because having work published will leave you feeling empty if it is your only motivator.

Lamott has written several short stories for people in her life that were near death. Her father with a brain tumor was able to read a short story about Anne’s siblings and herself and how they were dealing with the diagnosis. Her best friend, Pammy, was given a short story before her death about memories that Lamott had made with her. In this chapter she gives several examples of times where she handed a story to someone she loved that made a difference in their demeanor and their lives.

For me, I could see myself giving the gift of stories to the people that mean the most to me. They may not be on their death beds, but to hear the words of their influence and effects on me through writing might be one way to show someone how much I treasure their relationship. This chapter was very inspiring and helped me to fix my gaze somewhere other than on the publishing world (which sucks by the way.)

Finding Your Voice

“We don’t have much to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go into.” -Anne Lamott

We all have our favorite writers. For many reasons we resonate with their style and when they describe the world we feel like they are seeing it from our perspective. Because we are so touched by their writing we try to emulate their voice, but in the process of trying to mimic the writing of another we trade our originality and become a fake.

Throughout the process of my first book it is obvious when I was reading certain works. I would take cadence and rhythm from people like Markus Zusak or Ray Bradbury and transpose them into my own work. (Which is why it is a good idea to read a different genre than what you are currently writing.) I love the way both of those authors pace their writing and when I go through my earlier drafts it’s clear when I made a trade with the sea witch and handed over my voice.

It has taken me years to uncover my unique voice. It took a lot of soul searching and honesty on my part. From feedback and responses to my work I think that my trademarks are forming and I’m slipping out of the comfort of someone else’s brand and into my own. As a new writer, it is okay to take inspiration from another, but as I’m trying to make a name for myself in the writing world it is time to assume my own persona.

Finding your voice isn’t easy. We all have a monster, but the writer’s job is to open those doors that the world says to keep closed. A writer’s task is to face those demons and slay them with language. It is a scary world as a writer, but when you face those giants and put the fears to rest then you are left with an original voice that has never been heard before.

*This Saturday I will be finishing Bird by Bird and giving away an ARC copy of the book. Come back Saturday for details on how to receive a copy of this book.

The Ameri Brit Mom