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Friday Links for Writers: Week’s Best Reads 01.06.17

Scrivener underway, nailing down the final novel structure. cElissa Field

Scrivener underway, nailing down the final novel structure. cElissa Field

One of my favorite things about the holidays is claiming long days to read and write. From Christmas Day to New Year’s, I’d read 4 novels, revised a short story, got a dozen story submissions out, and continued working through the editorial list for this novel.

So satisfying to progress through writing, revision and submission — although, it was humbling to realize you never outgrow the fidgety feeling submissions leave you with. No matter my years’ experience waiting for replies, I’ve been bad as a newbie, with that nagging obsession that I was waiting to hear back. The only cure: move on to other work.

As always, today’s Friday Links for Writers shares a list of some of the best writing links I’ve come across in recent weeks. Jane Friedman’s roundup shares 17 of her best shares, so bonus there. Share your thoughts in the comments, to let us know how your writing week has gone, or to share your own best reads of the week. Have a great writing week, all.

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How to Write a Great Story: A Roundup of the Best Advicegreat-story-roundup

This is far from the first time I’ve featured advice from Jane Friedman — I’m sure others will recognize her as a great source of insight into writing and publishing. Call this post from her blog “the motherlode,” as Jane shares 17 links to what she considers the best advice she has shared from authors, agents and publishers from 2011-2016.

The Big Reason Why Agents & Editors Often Stop Reading

This post by Paula Munier has been my favorite read from Jane’s roundup. Drawn from her book Writing with Quiet Hands, Munier asserts that a lack of narrative thrust is most often the culprit. I loved reading what she had to say about the story question, at macro-, meso- and micro- levels. I know I am not alone as a literary writer quietly craving more talk about plotting – this is that kind of piece.

Take Five: Donald Maass and the Emotional Craft of Fiction

In the same spirit as talk of narrative thrust, this post on Writer Unboxed interviews agent/author Donald Maass on his new release, The Emotional Craft of Fiction. While the post serves primarily to announce the new release, Don shares insights about authentic emotional engagement. Considering the canon of literary advice he has shared over the last decade and more, I appreciated how one of his answers traced the thread between his various books, which maps a growth in what continues to make novels “breakout,” including that crossroad between litfic and genre.

Emotion & Suspense: the Essence of Rasa Theory

71ythcjiyl__sx342_Continuing with the theme of creating an emotional experience, Rita Banerjee shares her essay on Rasa Theory: “Rasa theory centers on taste. Not taste in the sense of sophistication or composure or discernment…But taste in its most primal, animalistic, emotive, and provocative form…Rasa is what happens to you, spectator, reader, part-time lover, when you watch or read a work of art with intensity.I read the full article in my print copy of Poets & Writers Magazine (Jan/Feb 2017), but share here an excerpt that was posted by Cambridge Writer’s Workshop.

Submission Strategies: Advice from a Literary Magazine Editor

Aerogramme shared this roundup of advice from editor Kim Winternheimer of the Masters Review. I like that her advice asks, what kind of writer are you?, in acknowledging that her advice may lead to different answers for different writers, with some tips on how to make those choices.

The Best Independent Bookstores in America

parnassus“Independent bookstores are not only surviving but thriving,” Allison McNearney reports in the Daily Beast. She shares her list of the best of the indies, including a few of my favorites: Powell’s Books in Portland, Parnassus Books in Nashville, and Books & Books in Miami. (If you’re looking to find an independent bookseller near you, check my indie bookseller list on Twitter or indiebound.org.)

2017 Resistance Actions – Week One

Okay, so this may seem an odd link in a roundup of writing advice, yet it is at the heart of the context many of us are operating in this year. Whether you engage in the Resistance, feel threatened by recent politics, or are otherwise engaging in activism, or if you are writing about it, Maud Newton’s plan for one week of daily acts is a concrete map of how many are standing up for right action in 2016-17.

Toni Morrison on the Power of Language: Her Nobel Acceptance Speech

Beautiful picture of Toni Morrison on a wall inside the Lillian Vernon Writers' House at NYU. I first knew I wanted to write fiction, hearing Toni Morrison read Sula. Love.

Beautiful picture of Toni Morrison on a wall inside the Lillian Vernon Writers’ House at NYU.

People sometimes ask, “What was the first book you read that inspired you to be a writer?” Mine was Toni Morrison, first Song of Solomon, and then Sula. I signed out a library room at VCU and listened alone to a recording of her reading Sula’s final scene. The wrenching inspiration I took then is repeated in the effect of her Nobel Acceptance speech, shared here by BrainPickings.

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What Are You Working On?

What is your current writing goal? What resources or strategies have kept you moving forward? Share your thoughts or links you’ve found helpful in the comments.

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Want to be notified of further posts? Regular readers will know that I am glad to connect with other writers. Please do say hello or share your own experiences in the comments. While finishing my Master’s and completing this novel, I am not posting at regular intervals to this site, so it’s a good idea to use the WordPress follow button, or subscribe using the email option, to keep track of future posts. Both are on the sidebar (or footer, in mobile app).

I am always active on Twitter and Facebook, so it’s easy to connect with me there: Twitter @elissafield or Facebook.

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Wordsmith Studio Blog Hop: Writing Challenges, Successes & Strategies – Part 1

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I love this sign from Atlantic Center for the Arts, which comes on the heels of a sign asking the public not to venture beyond a point where the center is reserved for artists. c Elissa Field

I’m joining in Wordsmith Studio’s 3rd Anniversary Blog Hop, today — responding to a great Q & A about my (recent) writing challenges or successes, and the tools, strategies or resources that help me succeed.10634351_10100112304388454_1141723537_n

Being a little funny, there, calling it a “great” prompt, as I was actually the one to write it. This is the third week I’ve hosted the WSS blog hop for writers, for our anniversary month.

I encourage you to go over and check out the hop. You don’t have to be a member of the writing group to join in. Do jump around and read the various posts. Particularly this week — it would be great if you shared a post with your own writing challenges and your tools or strategies for success. I’ll post links to the hop down below.

But not yet. First, here’s the interview.

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Q & A: My Writing Challenges (or Successes) and the Tools, Strategies or Resources That Help Me Succeed – Part 1

1) What are you currently working on?

My work is split between my business (freelance nonfiction, writing & editing), my Masters (writing and research related to curriculum & learning) and fiction. I occasionally write short stories (have a had a few published, a couple awards — small fry), but spend most of my time on novels. I work toward literary fiction, or what is referred to as crossover or book club fiction — literary fiction with commercial appeal.

I am working on a novel called Never Said (it was nicknamed Wake elsewhere on the blog). It trines between the U.S., Ireland and the Middle East, with one couple’s love affair unraveling a tension of what it is to live “without war” in an era when war touches everything.

As tools go: I use Outlook to block out time for business, masters and fiction, and to keep to do lists with weekly steps that help keep me moving forward in all 3 goals. I share goals with friends and with a life coach, to organize my goals and keep me accountable.

2) In recent past, what was your greatest joy or greatest challenge?

I have been impatient to complete this novel — but it was challenging, as it was the first one I attempted where the idea wasn’t that clear when I started writing. I knew the main characters and understood an essential tension, but had to go deep into research to understand the international context, and then deeper into character to develop the motivation and parallel stories that drive each.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

Badge for my personal 2015 challenge with this novel.

It’s easy to get impatient when you feel like you should be able to have finished by now (twice, I thought I was revising a final draft), but as I work on this 8th draft, it is obvious that I had to work this long to understand the story that I had only sensed in the earlier versions. A fast version would have “worked,” but wasn’t compelling. Being willing to pull up and start over let me find the real story. And, of course, hard work teaches valuable lessons.

The greatest joy is that I love the newer material.

As resources go: 2 books on writing offered some good tools for targeting and addressing weak areas in my narrative or characters: Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions, and Donald Maass’s Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling

3) What challenge are you working through now?

Time is always an issue — especially right now, as I restarted my business and am busy with my kids — so any time delays are aggravating. I had a tree fall across my windshield 2 weeks ago, so groaned over the time spent getting it fixed. Same goes for lags in technology, or time spent marketing for work.

It’s not just about having time to write every day, but wanting those writing hours to be end-zone-level productive.

Transitioning between drafts means that I am pulling successful scenes from several documents in Word to build the new draft. Last summer, on the last draft, I did this simultaneously in Word and Scrivener; Scrivener has won me over, so I may be assembling this draft just in Scrivener. Although it sometimes slows me down to have to set up all the preferences, I like the ability to see each scene as a discreet piece in Scriv. Much of my writing in recent months involved re-envisioning existing scenes — the ‘notecard’ view helps me locate, compare or replace previous versions, and to readily sort scenes that will be re-ordered in the final draft. The challenge, though, when working from multiple drafts is staying organized.

As tools go: I believe in Scrivener enough that I’ve include a link to their site in my sidebar. If you don’t know much about the software, click the picture here to check it out (if it takes you to a “buy” page, click the banner for the homepage for more about…). They are generous in offering a 30 nonconsecutive-day free trial, which allows you a lot of time to play with it before having to pay.

Buy Scrivener for Windows (Regular Licence)

4) For work you are just planning or starting, what challenges or growth are you expecting or hoping to encounter?

I’ve drafted novels and met with agents face-to-face before, but this will be my first foray into blind querying. I’ve practiced pitching and spitballing at conferences and workshops in the last year, and gotten an agent’s feedback on a query draft.

As for strategies: It’s worth noting that attempting to draft a query or plan pitches and log lines during different face-to-face activities with peers and agents is part of what helped me know when I didn’t have a clear sense of the story. Writing pitches and queries ended up being a great strategy for understanding my narrative structure.

5) What have successes or challenges in your work (recently) taught you?

Well, the thing I just mentioned. Having come from a literary background where these things aren’t brooded on as much as word choice and such, I was surprised how important plot structure, narrative arc, suspense and other elements more typically suited to screenwriting have been, as tools in my revisions.

As resources go: the sign at the top of this post was from a workshop I participated in last January (Blue Flower Writers Workshop at Atlantic Center for the Arts), where Ben Percy was the clearest I’ve heard in talking about structure and suspense, even in literary writing.

6) What obstacles or challenges have you not been able to overcome, or still frustrate you? Is there a “magic wand” you would invent to solve this problem?

Yes, I want Hermione’s time turner — to be able to use the same hour to address multiple priorities. It’s not that I don’t have the time. Keeping time to write (fiction) every week is a nonnegotiable for me — I am stubborn in crafting the rest of my life around it, even while running a business or when I teach full time. But I still get frustrated to not be done yet.

As tools go: A magic wand that pulls the story straight out of my head would be great. As strategies go: here are other posts I’ve written on time management strategies for writers.

To Be Continued…

There are 2 more questions to the Q & A, asking how I would define a great writing week and what specific tools and strategies help me succeed. Those answers are long enough that I’m going to let them be a second post.

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How About You? Join in the Blog Hop!

What successes or challenges are you working through, and what tools, resources or strategies help you succeed?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments.  Better yet, if you are reading this 4/29-5/4, join in the blog hop by using the linky tool below.  Visit the initial prompt, with all 8 questions and more explanation of “how to hop,” on Wordsmith Studio’s site: Writers’ Homecoming Blog Hop – Week 3.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

If you like the idea of more blog hops, let me know, as I may host them in the future on this site.

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Friday Links for Writers 01.03.14

Snow lightly drifts onto a favorite summer reading bench. c. Elissa Field.

Snow lightly drifts onto a favorite summer reading bench. c. Elissa Field.

As this post goes live, my boys and I will be watching snow accumulate outside my parents’ 230 year-old house in Fairfield, Connecticut — or perhaps daring to hit I-95 for the long drive back south to Florida.

Being on holiday and then snowed in has been perfect time to luxuriate in long days for reading and writing, lending some great reads to this week’s edition of Friday Links for Writers.

As always, let me know what resonates for you in these links, what you’d like more of, or share your own favorite reads from the week in the comments. Best wishes for a great writing (and reading) week!

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Opportunities for Writers: January and February 2014

This isn’t the first time I’ve included a link to Aerogramme Writer’s Studio, as I think it is a great site that is generous and comprehensive in sharing resources for writers — including their bimonthly listings of submission opportunities.  In addition to checking out the link, find Aerogramme on Twitter @A_WritersStudio.

The Red Roadmaster

I was looking for inspiration and actually went scrolling through Writer Unboxed’s website specifically looking for essays by Donald Maass. His words cut that cleanly to inspiration. I bypassed his most recent post to find this one, on effective backstory.

Anthony Marra on A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

I came across this article in the New York Times while looking for the award Anthony Marra’s novel was nominated for (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was longlisted for the National Book Award) while adding it to my 2014 Winter Reading List yesterday. I “met” Marra years back in an online writers’ forum, and have been thrilled to see the successful reception of his first novel.  This article was interesting as it discusses the connection between research (particularly travel in Chechnya) and the resulting novel.

Giving Up

Okay, obsess much?  Kidding, but yes, this one is also by Anthony Marra — another article I found while looking for info on his current novel. But this article, published at The Rumpus in 2011, may be meaningful inspiration for anyone feeling conflicted about a stagnant project, as Marra shares what he learned by giving up despite years invested on a project.

Learning to Measure Time in Love and Loss

Is this one about writing? Not exactly. But this New York Times essay by Chris Huntington is a beautiful reflection on the relative nature of what matters most in life — perfect timing for anyone beating themselves up over goals not met in 2013 or planning what to prioritize in 2014. (It was my favorite read last week.)

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Conference and Workshop Deadlines

Reviewing the January 22nd registration deadline for the AWP Conference at the end of February reminded me that lots of important spring deadlines are approaching.  If you’re considering attending spring or summer conferences, here is my round up from last spring of contact information on many of the great conferences and workshops, including Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Sewanee and more:  2013 Writing Conferences & Workshops

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Admit it: did you think I was lame for claiming to be “snowed in” with the faint dusting in the picture above? That was yesterday. Today we spent the morning shoveling driveways and walks in shifts.  The snow is beautiful and a great treat before we head back south.  Enjoy your winter weekend, wherever you are!

Bundled up and shoveling out to be ready for the drive home.

Bundled up and shoveling out to be ready for the drive home.

Enjoying the snowfall in Fairfield.

Enjoying the snowfall in Fairfield.

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Friday Links for Writers: 07.05.13

thailandIf I am late in posting this Friday Links for Writers, can we brag a little about having our feet up, kicked back, reading a book or luxuriating in chance to write uninterrupted because it’s summer?

Not just summer, but 4th of July’s long weekend. Savoring…

On Tuesday, I shared some great experiences I’ve had writing this week (Tuesday Writes). Kudos to a number of my writing friends and readers here who shared their writing milestones (and Twitter wordsprints) this week, too.

As always, each week’s writing includes awesome reading, and here are some of the best articles I’ve read this week. Let me know what resonates with you, what you’d like more of, or share your own links in the comments. Enjoy your weekend!

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4 Types of Freelance Clients to Avoid

This article by Lauren Levine at the Daily Muse is fabulous, especially for anyone considering getting into freelance writing or freelancing part time. No matter how tempting it is to take any client who asks for your services, Levine helps target the kinds of clients best avoided.

The Bridge & the Tunnel

Yeah, tease me: I’ve been tooting Donald Maass’s horn repeatedly the last 2 weeks. Last year I was doing the same over Ann Hood (like, in Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy or this How Internal & External Conflict Build Story). Honestly, by the time you’re writing novel-length, it takes a certain quality of advice to really move your writing forward — to engage at the level of deepening conflict and character and story structure — and Hood and Maass do both of these. So, again, yes: another great resource from Maass. This article on Writers Unboxed addresses novel midpoints — key, as this is the part where so many drafts sag. Some fabulous prompts are included.

Work Alone: Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Twice this week, I wrote about the value of having community support when writing. That said, in the end, it takes time alone to get the work done. Brainpickings is awesome at sharing original texts, and this transcript and recording of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize Acceptance speech is inspiring.

The Coffeeshop You Meet in Heaven

You don’t work in isolation but in a coffee shop, you say? This essay by Rebecca Makkai (author of The Borrower and several stories in Best American Short Stories, with a 2nd novel in the wings) in Ploughshares is worth a read. It’s Rebecca’s perfect coffee shop for writers.

Literary Culture Clash: Jonathan Lee Interviews Nicole Aragi

I could say Nicole Aragi was my favorite literary agent without actually knowing she existed simply because she has signed and promoted so many authors I admire (Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer, Aleksander Hemon, and being friends with Colum McCann, earns her bonus points). This interview by Jonathan Lee at Guernica is amazing to read, whether she reps your kind of fiction or not, just for offering a different glimpse inside publishing — one that includes love of good writing. (Thanks to agent Jenny Bent of the Bent Agency for sharing this. @jennybent)

Preditors & Editors

This is an old source I’d forgotten about — until a fellow writer was offered representation this week and the question arose: is the publisher legit? This is a great tool for vetting out legit publishers versus scams.

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Friday Links for Writers: 06.28.13

air-show-snow-conesSome weeks have a person singing “TGIF” loudly. My earlier posts this week (on the hard work of revision Monday and revising a flat character Tuesday) have confessed how intense writing and novel revision have been on my end. Yesterday’s challenge was the bleary work of comparing prior drafts, line by line. Still not fun, yet.

On the other hand… the kids and I are out of school for the summer. Today we’re off to the pool. Nights, we’ve been repeating my favorite childhood memory of reading mysteries falling asleep, as we’ve been buddy-reading my 11 year-old’s summer reading, And Then There Were None.

Before heading out to swim, it’s time for Friday Links. When writing is intense, I especially appreciate great reading to escape into, and I’ve stumbled across some great pieces this week. I hope you enjoy them – as always, let me know in the comments which links resonate for you, what you’d want more of, or share links to your own posts or links. Enjoy!

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This is Where the Rubber Meets the Road

I’m sure lots of you will agree that literary agent Rachelle Gardner shares some of the best advice on her blog.  As I said, I’m in the hard part of writing, and this article is just the right pep talk. Rachelle says to tell yourself, “This is where patience comes in. I can do this.” You knew it was going to be hard; tell yourself, so this is what hard feels like. If you don’t need this inspiration, click to follow her anyway, as her blog is always great.

Are Children’s Books Darker Than They Used to Be?

If you read or write YA, this title probably called to you as much as it did to me. My spontaneous answer to the question was, “No” — have you ever read original fairy tales? They’re dark. In her article, writer Julia Eccleshare at the Guardian evaluates the darkness of current kid lit, and also the thematic needs of young readers that compels that darkness. (But a parent/teacher request to YA writers: not too dark folks. Recent experience with cable-channel movies has me aware of how much we’re desensitizing ourselves from violence. Don’t be dark just to get attention.)

Teachers Write!

If you are a teacher or librarian, this is a really high-energy writing “camp” hosted by 4 young adult authors online. I wrote about Teachers Write! on my teaching blog here, and shared response to a morning prompt here — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are daily prompts, advice, Q & A with authors and feedback — plus the positive camaraderie and feedback from participants. Use the link above for official info and sign-up… or see what’s going on at this Facebook page: Teachers Write! Facebook page. One can jump in to participate at any time.

Is the Key to Becoming a Great Writer Having a Day Job?

On the heels of link for teachers who write is this link, on that perpetual debate: the value or conflict of a day job to earn a living while writing a novel. This piece by Mason Currey in Slate won’t give you modern advice but may reassure of the value of day job as he examines several famous writers from throughout history and evaluates the impact of day jobs on their success.

Querying Agents? Check hashtag #MSWL

Want to find agents who would love to read a manuscript just like yours? Search tweets using the hashtag #MSWL which stands for manuscript wish list. Writers, don’t post your wishes — look for agents to list the kind of manuscript they’d love to get.

A Dozen Reasons Books Are Rejected by Agents, Editors (& Readers)

What’s interesting about this post by Mike Wells on his The Green Water blog is that his examples address that gap between writing a good enough query to interest an agent… but then the manuscript doesn’t follow through on the expectations set.

13 Inspirational TED Talks for Writers

Have you discovered TED Talks yet? I used to roll my eyes a little, they came up so often in “let’s rock the world” conversations — and then I got hooked myself. This is a second great link I’m sharing from Aerogramme, with a range of authors talking about creativity and more.

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Want to Join a Book Discussion on Writing Craft?

Donald Maass

Donald Maass

With fellow writers at Wordsmith Studio, I shared my love of novel writing prompts that literary agent Donald Maass used to tweet. I included 23 of those prompts, plus link to Maass’s site, in this post last March:

Want more? As one of our community resources, Wordsmith Studio hosts quarterly discussion groups including books on writing craft. Starting Monday July 1, we’ll be reading Maass’s book Writing the Breakout Novel. My copy arrives today. Find discussions on Twitter on Mondays at 9 pm EST July-September — using the hashtag #wschat (this tag is also used for Tuesday discussions of various aspects of writing).

Links for more info:

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Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

Danger Book May Bite c. Elissa Field

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Friday Links for Writers 06.14.13

fl beach

Welcome back to Friday Links for Writers, which has been on a 3-month hiatus while I focused on other work. Today happens to be Flag Day which is also my birthday. I am celebrating on a gorgeous South Florida day with a little writing spree — and a short break to visit with you!

As writing friends here may know, my fiction competed for time with a new teaching role from February to May (remember my post: Writer Day Jobs: the Time-Money-Credit Trifecta? Street cred & money have been winning out, while time-to-revise… not so much) — so the idea of uninterrupted time to “make neat” of the frantic writing done in 15 or 30 minute chunks in the past several months is a fabulous luxury.

Luckily, there is never too little time for reading, and below are some great links I’ve come across in the past week or so. As always, let me know what you find useful, what you’d like more of… or let us know what writing goals you’ve been up to lately. Great to see you here.

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The Map and the Trail

Truth: I have yet to read any advice from literary agent Donald Maass that wasn’t immediately useful. As this essay opens with a rambling piece on a family hike, I thought maybe this was the one. But no. He pulled off great insight into the power of setting, including a great series of prompts to provoke thinking about how to make setting more powerful in your own WIP. Yup, I’ll be considering these in today’s work.

Book Editing

This post, featured on K. M. Weiland’s blog, Wordplay, features advice from ghostwriter Karen Cole on what to expect from the book editing process. In particular, her definitions of 5 types of editing give interesting terminology and clarity for discussing the possible processes during book edits with an editor or agent.

What to Write in the “Bio” Section of Your Query Letter

Working on getting queries out to agents this month?  This is a great article from Chuck Sambuchino at Writer Unboxed, breaking down the finer points of what to include (or leave out) of the bio paragraph of your query letter.

Race, Identity & Writing

As someone who has written outside culture and in foreign settings, I’ve often weighed the different challenges (and permission?) writing faces when an author writes outside their own race or identity — a topic taken on in this article by Kathy Crowley at Beyond the Margins.

Forging Words

I read this in a week that my former hometown, Detroit, has been declared bankrupt. What poet would be more fitting to profile than Philip Levine, a former Rouge Plant auto worker turned Poet Laureate of the United States? There is something humbling and inspiring to hear of work and decay spoken of in the same breath as creation of art.

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air-show-snow-cones

Where Else You’ll Find Me

One of the projects I’ve been up to has been writing about resources for educators. You’ll find the beginnings of that project, including Twitter 101 for Teachers: Steps for Getting Started on Twitter, at Mrs. T’s Middle Grades.

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Writing Workshop: Novel Writing Prompts from Donald Maass

When life intervenes, writing can compete hard for our hours. Especially if a day job or kids cry for our attention, we can have days we wish writing had its own demanding boss screaming, “Write! Write!”

Thanks to her March Madness Challenge, we can all pretend agent Nephele Tempest of the Knight Agency is that stern boss. Or encouraging one.

Tempest’s challenge is to make time to write every day. She supplements this with homework and “circuit training” — which began with a challenge to compile a list of at least a dozen writing prompts. This is why bosses are fab: if you asked me, I’d say I don’t like prompts. Too work-out-ish. Let me just write.

Donald Maass

Donald Maass

But Tempest says, “Gather prompts,” and I am suddenly reminded that agent Donald Maass has been tweeting a thought-provoking series of novel prompts, one per week, since 2011. In March, Maass’s agency website shared at least 50 of the 101 prompts he had tweeted at the release of his Writing 21st Century Fiction, a to kick a good WIP into “breakout novel” shape. (The list of prompts is no longer on the site. Look for other links below.)

Here are some of the prompts from Maass’s list that challenge my thinking with my WIP.  Please follow the link to his agency website for the whole list or find more recent prompts in his feed on Twitter at @DonMaass . Update 6/2013: the list has been removed from the site, but Maass does tweet occasional prompts from his book, using the hashtag #21stCenturyTuesday.

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  1. “What’s the worst thing your MC does? Whom and how does that hurt? Now work backwards, set it up to hurt even more.” Thinking to myself: the death MC caused. Hurt his mother, his brother, himself. But what about his younger siblings, his mother’s family? What about his son? Did his mother have a best friend who never forgave him for it?  Hmm.
  2. What’s the most selfless thing your MC does? What good change or effect does that have on someone unexpected? Add that in.” Curious in the absence of this. Who in my WIP is selfless? Would it be more revealing if they were selfless than if their motivation were more immediate?
  3. “Find any violence in your ms. Delete any shock, fear or horror. Replace with two *conflicting* emotions that are less obvious.” I like this, as writing violence can be as challenging as writing sex: for literary fiction, you need the effect of the thing, and I’m curious about this challenge for getting further from the obvious.
  4. “What should your readers most see, understand or be angry about? At what story moment will that happen? Heighten it in two ways.” Mulling (which is why prompts are great): have I been clear enough with this?
  5. “What does a sidekick or secondary character see about your MC that your MC denies? Force a showdown over it.” My MC would have a heart attack over this one. It is a key point to the story: the fact his best friend knew his error all along. But, hmm. There’s never been a showdown, and that intrigues me.
  6. “Over what does your MC disagree with his/her boss or mentor? When does the boss/mentor prove to be right?” While my MC is focused on ways his father mentored him, a small conflict as prompted with his boss (a minor character) could be perfect diversion to expose a clearer image of how the world sees my MC.
  7. “Find a small hurt someone suffers. What’s the big principle or hidden injustice it represents? Stir your MC to anger over it.”  My WIP opens with a small hurt that engages the reader. The injustice is clear as it leaves a little boy without a father. It’s that last bit that lights a flare: I’ve never let my MC know about it.  How would he react?
  8. “What’s the worst thing that happens to your MC? Work backwards. Make it something your MC has spent a lifetime avoiding.” Yup. This is key to MC’s internal conflict. Lifetime of avoiding wills his fear in.
  9. “What secret is your MC keeping? Who is keeping one *from* your MC? Spill the truth at the worst possible time.” I’m debating a story thread I added last fall — knowing it is strong, but weighing if it takes power away from the MC’s story. This question is key as I decide if there should be another secret in play or not.
  10. “What does your MC know about people that no one else does? Create 3 moments when he/she spots that in others.” Roonan: everyone is hiding. Or he thinks everyone is hiding, or sees what everyone is hiding. (Which may be true, but reveals more his animal state of having lived in hiding.)
  11. “Find a small passing moment in your manuscript. What big meaning does your MC see in it? Add that.” Like the one before, these are intriguing as they provoke: what does the MC see that no one else does? What a great way to reveal inner conflict.
  12. “Give your MC passionate feelings about something trivial: e.g., cappuccino, bowling, argyle socks. Write his/her rant. Add it.” I just think this one’s funny.
  13. “Your MC’s worst quality: let him/her struggle with it, provoke it 3 times, make it cost something big, then allow change.” Use this one to evaluate where his worst quality is revealed, where this might incite more. And the love interest’s worst quality?
  14. Who in your story has an ironclad, unshakable belief? Shatter or reverse it by the story’s end. Force him to rebuild.”  Yup.  Reversed.  Shattered. Time to rebuild.
  15. “What principle guides your MC? At what moment is it most tested? When does it fail? Put it into action three times.” Roonan: to stay out of the violence. Secondarily, he had to protect his younger brother and sister. In protecting or helping vulnerable people, he backs into violence.
  16. “Find a corner, crossroads or dark object in your story. Invest it with eeriness, unknown portent or dread. Go there three times.” There are guns in the book, but a vintage motorcycle and bag of locks would be the dark object. Or is there something else?
  17. “What does your antagonist believe in? Who else shares those values? Why are they actually right? When does your MC see that too?” If anything, this challenges me to wonder: am I too quick for MC to agree with antagonist?
  18. “What’s the worst thing your antagonist must do? Make it against his/her principles. Make it unthinkable. Then make it imperative.” Thinking… External antagonist? Wondering if there is a place for this. But also, how about internal antagonist? Have I directly confronted this? Is this what compels his mistakes?
  19. “What does your protagonist most want? How is it truly something that everyone wants? Explain & add.” I’ve written about this before (here). My character wants the same happiness he thought his parents had. Writing needed might include those directions: “explain & add.”
  20. “In your climactic scene, what are 3 details of place that only your MC would notice? Cut more obvious details, replace with these.” Intriguing challenge.
  21. “During a big dramatic event, what’s one small thing your POV character realizes will never change or never be the same again?” My immediate thought is a smaller detail, not the obvious change.
  22. “Cut 100 words from your last 3 pages.You have 5 minutes. Fail? Penalty: cut 200 words.” We all love-hate this one.
  23. “What’s a moment when everything could change? Pause. Explore. What does it feel like to be weightless?” This tweet provoked a transformative emotional response in a crucial moment in my WIP when I came across it last fall.

Updated Summer 2013 — Here are several resources for learn more from Maass:

Hey! Want an opportunity to read Maass’s book, work on your manuscript and trade notes with a fab writing group? My friends at Wordsmith Studio have selected Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel for our book chats on Twitter, starting July 1, 2013 at 9 pm EST. We’ll discuss the book at chats July through September, using Twitter chat-tag, #wschat.

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What prompts or other writing inspiration do you use to start your work? Do you avoid prompts or welcome them? Have you posted your own prompts before? Feel free to share your link or favorite prompts in the comments.

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Filed under Novel Writing, Writing Character, Writing Prompt, Writing workshop