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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Writing Prompt: Strange Stress Coping Mechanisms

By Marilyn Friedman and Alana Saltz

I don't know about you, but I've been having a crazy week. I just returned from a slow paced weekend in the Bay Area visiting family and have been thrust into the vortex of too much work. Yesterday, I devoured a whole party size bag of gummy bears to cope with my anxiety, and oddly, it calmed me down. The writing prompt at the bottom of this blog post is inspired by my strange way of dealing with stress.

Another way that I stop myself from stressing out is sitting down to write. Luckily, I live in a writing school so I have ample opportunities to create a productive, inspiring writing structure for myself. Join me starting this Tuesday, March 5th, and turn your past heartbreaks into a hefty paycheck. Check out Hookups, Breakups and Miss Connections: Writing the Relationship Essay with Margaret Wappler (Editor of Dame Magazine, LA Times, Rolling Stone)! There are so many places to get essays about relationships published like Modern Love, LA Affairs, and Nerve.

I'm also very excited that next weekend award-winning mystery author David Corbett (Done for A Dime, The Art of Character) will be traveling from the Bay Area and joining us at the Pad for two fantastic classes. Developing Characters That Work for Fiction (Sat., March 9) will teach you how to craft compelling characters instead of plot puppets. And in The Spine of the Crime: Structure and Crime Story (Sun., March 10), you'll learn the crucial elements of the major crime story types, a character-and-theme driven approach, and develop a mini outline for your tale!

You also won't want to miss our panel on Fri., March 8th, Crime Scene Confidential: Writing the Belivable Mystery. Not only will I be serving my famous sangria (another great way to cope with stress in moderation), but this event will feature uber writers David Corbett, James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure, Deceived) and Bill Rabkin ("Monk,""Psych"). Get the scoop on the real life cases that inspired their crime stories and learn how to infuse your tales with suspense!

Below are a ton of fabulous class options below as well as a free writing prompt! See you soon.

Note: classes with an asterix (*) will be held at our new, posh Westside location in Westwood!

Fiction, Memoir, and Romance
Memorable Memoir Bootcamp: Make Your True Tales Thrilling
 Journalism, Personal Essay and Web Writing
Personal Essay Clinic*
What Do You Think? Writing the Op-Ed or Cultural Essay*
Getting to "Like": Crafting A Compelling Blog
Query Letter Clinic: Writing The Pitch That Sells Your Story

Playwriting and Writing for Actors
The You Show: A Solo Performance Intensive
Get Into Character: A Character Monologue Workshop 
Storytelling Bootcamp: A Spoken Workout

Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: Crafting Your Webisode Calling Card (1 DAY)*
Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: The Ten Page Workout*

Writing Prompt:
The way a character deals with stress can say a lot about who he or she is as a person. Make a list of three unusual ways you or your fictional character deals with stress. Perhaps you're like me and eat an entire bag of candy. Maybe you are like Mr. Writing Pad and enjoy winding down by compulsively cleaning the stove. Or you might be like Writing Pad Instructor Monica Holloway (Cowboys and Wills), who maxed out her credit card at the pet store buying a new hamster or puppy whenever she felt stressed and overwhelmed.

Pick one of your stress coping mechanisms. Now add a sensory detail to the activity (e.g. smell, sound, touch, taste). Write for 10 minutes about you or your character doing this activity and include the sensory detail. Make sure to include the event or circumstance that caused your last gummy bear binge, cleaning frenzy or shopping spree. When you are finished, post your story in the comments of this blog!

Don't forget: share the results of your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!

Sleuthing Out the Story: An Interview with David Corbett

Want mystery, intrigue, and colorful characters in your stories? To amplify all those elements in your storytelling, Writing Pad brings you a weekend with David Corbett on Mar. 8-10!

David's work has been touted as “the best in contemporary crime fiction” by the Washington Post. This January, Penguin published his newest book on the craft of character, The Art of Character, for which he is currently on book tour. 

In a previous incarnation of his career, David was a senior operative for the private investigation firm Palladino & Sutherland for over 15 years, working on numerous headline cases including the DeLorean Trial, the Michael Jackson case, the Lincoln Savings Loan Scandal, the Cotton Club Murder Case. He's published four novels: The Devil’s Redhead (nominated for numerous Best First Novel awards), Done for a Dime (a New York Times Notable Book), Blood of Paradise (nominated for numerous awards, including the Edgar, Washington Post Top Ten Mystery/Thriller for 2007, San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book), and Do They Know I’m Running (Spinetingler Award, Best Novel—Rising Star Category 2011).

We were thrilled that David was able to carve some time out of his busy schedule to speak with us.

In your previous life as a senior operative for Palladino & Sutherland, you were involved in some headline cases. Tell us about a few of your favorites.

The Michael Jackson case was an eye opener from the standpoint of realizing just how many parasites throng around a superstar. Jackson’s own staff bled him dry while sucking up and feeding his insatiable need to be loved and validated. You put weak, venal people that close to power and money and their souls turn into sewers in an eye blink.

The People’s Temple case was the most heartbreaking. Larry Layton was being tried for the second time for conspiracy to assassinate a U.S. Representative, Leo Ryan, who was killed at the Jonestown airstrip in Guyana along with several others. Layton was definitely one of the gunmen, but our defense centered around showing that the prosecution could not prove intent due to the long-term brainwashing and deprivation Layton and other Temple members suffered, exacerbated by isolation and the Temple’s bizarre rules and structure. 

I interviewed dozens of Temple members. Hearing their stories about being gullible and betrayed, of losing loved ones, of being treated savagely by the FBI, then ostracized upon coming home, afraid to mention they’d once belonged to the Temple truly broke my heart and galvanized my commitment.  

You recently came out with a new book on developing characters. Which one of your real life cases as a Private Investigator had the most colorful cast of characters?

I worked on a number of interrelated marijuana smuggling cases linked to a group of characters out of San Diego who called themselves the Coronado Company. They were Navy brats for the most part, comfortable with boats and the sea, and began dealing pot in high school, crossing into TJ for party-size loads, nothing major. But little by little the demand grew and so did their nerve, until they got to the point someone needed to speak Spanish. So they recruited their high school Spanish teacher, a walking mid-life-crisis named Lou Villar, into the company. They began doing major smuggling runs up from Mexico, then teamed up with some Vietnam vets yearning for a little adventure who had contacts in Southeast Asia. They became the largest smuggling operation on the West Coast, and were more wild than evil. If they’d lived in the 17th century they would have sailed around the world for treasure and fame. They were just born four hundred years too late.

In particular, one money laundering case out of Reno involving the Coronado Company had a real cast of oddball characters. One of the defendants had spent five years in a Cambodian prison, one had a fascination with a Peppermill cocktail waitress because she resembled a young Donna Reed,and the informant was a former Las Vegas midnight movie host.

How does your background as a private investigator inform your work as a crime fiction author?

I realize that criminals are not two-dimensional monsters preying on the noble innocents of the world. Morality is a bit more ambiguous than that, as people are far more complicated.

What inspired your leap from investigative work to professional writer?

I was actually writing before I became an investigator. I decided to take the job figuring it would serve as my “years at sea,” providing me a much broader and varied view of the world than I might otherwise experience. And I was right, to put it mildly.

How has your writing process changed over the course of writing your four published novels?

I have increasingly embraced the use of scenes at all levels of character development, I outline my structure far more extensively at the outset, and I’m more attentive to subtext.

In addition to novels, you've also written short stories and poetry, with two of your stories selected for Best American Mystery Stories. What's the key to packing in all the necessary mystery and suspense in short form?

You have to remember that a story usually focuses on a key revelation as its climactic event, and not try to do more than that, or else things get unwieldy. And suspense is largely a case of asking a question and withholding the answer. That’s true of whatever form you use.

We’re very excited about your new book on character creation, The Art of Character, and your workshop at Writing Pad that will apply some of the techniques for developing complex characters. Can you give us a preview of your approach? 

I focus on developing an intuitive link—or a bridge of empathy—between the writer and the characters, which requires a certain level of self-scrutiny and honesty. I work on plumbing one’s own experience for both character conception and development. I show how five key elements are crucial to compelling characterization, and that development from that point forward largely requires focusing on moments of significant emotional impact, usually involving an element of helplessness, to develop a deep understanding of where the character has come from, where he stands when the story begins, and where he might realistically head.

When you say it like that, it almost sounds easy! Thanks for your time, David.

Learning from a storytelling master of mystery and suspense like David will do wonders for your own work. Writing Pad is hosting two upcoming classes with David – She's Got Character: Developing Characters That Work on March 9th and The Spine of Crime: Structure and the Crime Story on March 10th – in addition to the one-night panel Crime Scene Confidential: Writing The Believable Mystery along with fiction, craft, and TV uber writers Bill Rabkin ("Psych", "Monk") and James Scott Bell ("Plot and Structure", "Deceived"). Sign up before they're full. Your characters will thank you!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Writing Prompt: Favorite Winter Activity

By Marilyn Friedman

I keep thinking that the cold weather is over, and then we have days like today where I have to unearth my warmest scarf, flip on the heat, and drink one hot beverage after another to keep warm.

At least we're not in the Midwest! But what will the starlets attending the Oscars do to avoid frostbite while wearing backless dresses? They will have my deepest sympathies if it doesn't warm up by Sunday night.

Starting Wednesday, Feb. 27th, we have new classes guaranteed to keep your muse warm, inspired and productive. Fiction Bootcamp with award-winning author Amelia Gray ("AM/PM", "Museum of the Weird", "THREATS", Tin House, McSweeney’s, Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize). Amelia will help you finish a short story or a piece of a novel and teach you how to get it published in a prestigious place like McSweeney's! Emmy-award winning writer Ed Crasnick ("Hot In Cleveland", "The Sopranos") says that you don't need to wait to finish a whole pilot to land an agent. His one-day workshop on Saturday, Mar. 2nd, Crafting Your Webisode Calling Card will help you create a webisode that you can shop around now. His web series, "The Writers Room", got him a ton of writing work.

Keep  your 2013 writing practice going by looking through the fabulous class options below and then scrolling to the bottom of this blog post for your free writing prompt! See you soon.

Note: classes with an asterix (*) will be held at our new, posh Westside location in Westwood!
Hook Ups, Break Ups, And Missed Connections: Writing The Relationship Essay
What Do You Think? Writing the Op-Ed or Cultural Essay*
Getting to "Like": Crafting A Compelling Blog
Query Letter Clinic: Writing The Pitch That Sells Your Story

Playwriting and Writing for Actors
Get Into Character: A Character Monologue Workshop 
The You Show: A Solo Performance Intensive
Storytelling Bootcamp: A Spoken Workout

Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: The Ten Page Workout*

Writing Prompt:
Since it still feel very much like winter, I thought that this writing prompt would inspire you to pick up a pen or your laptop, even if you have to wear fingerless gloves to accomplish the task. Make a list of your (or your fictional character's) three favorite winter activities (e.g. making snow angels, going skiing in Mammoth, an annual fondue party). Now pick one. Add a sensory detail to this activity (e.g. smell, taste, sound, touch). Write for 10 minutes about your favorite activity, including the sensory detail. You can write a poem, a scene, a story, or a rant. As long as you write, I'm happy. Then, post your ten minute write in the comments of this blog so that you can win a free class at the Pad!

For 10 minutes: write about your favorite winter activity. Share the results of your ten minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Pad Student Kit Rich Published in SELF

Writing Pad student Kit Rich took Taffy Brodesser-Akner's women's magazine class and wound up with her piece "At 17, I Never Thought My Life Would Turn Out Like This" published on the pages of SELF Magazine. We recently got in touch to get the nitty-gritty on how she made it happen. 

You landed a piece in a national women's magazine – a huge accomplishment! Had you been published previously?

I had been featured in almost every fitness and health magazine imaginable but never as a writer. I was featured as a trainer and for my fitness ideas. So it was incredibly exciting to be in the same magazine that I had always been in as a trainer, but now as a writer. I'm also the fitness writer for an online magazine called Beautylish. Actually the first piece I ever wrote in Taffy's two day personal essay class was published online at The Beauty Bean. The editor from Beautylish saw the piece and I was hired to write for them weekly.

What did you learn about the publishing process?

It takes a long time and a lot of patience! You also have to not take anything personally. What you think might be your brilliant line in your article could just be fluff to the editors, so be willing to let go of the article once it’s in the editor’s hands. But honestly, it was so thrilling to have top of the line editors looking at and working on my piece. It was humbling really. I learned a lot of what works and what doesn’t. I also learned to just get to the point.

How did class with Taffy help you refine your essay idea?

She was very good at helping me understand the message I was trying to convey. Once I understood where I was going with the article, it was much easier to figure out what came in between the beginning and end. She also has a way of realizing your writing habits that don’t serve you. She pointed them out for me and it has really helped me since. But honestly, I don’t feel I am giving her enough praise. She is inspiring, passionate, and truly cares about each and every student she teaches. She wants everyone to succeed, and it is very clear when taking her class. She creates a nurturing environment where everyone has the freedom to make mistakes, learn from them, and do it with no judgement attached.

How long after the class did Self accept your essay?

They actually accepted before the class was done. I believe it was published only 4 months later!

Any tips for pitching to a women's mag?

Patience! I am trying to get more articles published and it definitely isn’t as easy as the first time. But I won’t give up. The feeling of getting that “yes” overrides all doubt, lack of patience, and insecurity.

Oh man, do we understand that feeling! Thanks for chatting with us, Kit.

If you have a story you're dying to tell – and really, who doesn't? – Taffy Brodesser-Akner is the best person to help you hone in on your message AND the publications it's best suited for. There are three upcoming Writing Pad classes with Taffy aimed at getting your essay published: You in 1200 Words: Writing and Publishing the Personal Essay beginning March 3rd, the Personal Essay Clinic on March 18th, and What Do You Think? Writing the Op-Ed or Cultural Essay on March 21st and 28th. Sign up today and look forward to having your essay published in no time!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Shades of Amelia Gray: From Fantasy to Reality and Everything In Between

It's time to turn your real life fiction aspirations into reality, and, fortunately, Writing Pad has just the person to help set you on your way.

Meet Amelia Gray. She's authored not one, not two, but THREE books over the past four years. First out was her debut short story collection AM/PM in 2009. In 2010, she followed that with another short story collection entitled Museum of the Weird, which won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. Her first novel Threats was released in 2012 and garnered a spot on the long list for the University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize. Her short stories, poetry, and essays have appeared Tin House, Poets &Writers, American Short Fiction, GOOD, Guernica, Annalemma, Sonora Review, VICE, McSweeney's, the LA Review of Books, and DIAGRAM, among others.

Having received her MFA from Texas State University, Amelia's taught writing and composition at University of Illinois, Bowling Green State University, Hamilton College, Austin Community College, and Roosevelt College – even her teaching credentials are impressive!

We recently caught up with Amelia to get the skinny on all of her success.

How does your nonfiction essay writing influence your fiction and vice versa?

The structure and rules of nonfiction writing – for starters, that it has to be true – give me a frame, a set form, rigid guidelines. I love the chance to research and organize my existing plot in nonfiction. And then, switching in the afternoon to work on fiction, I appreciate the freedom. The guidelines of reality make working in nonfiction really pleasurable, and then throwing out those guidelines for fiction is equally fun. My impulses of rebellion and obedience each have a little time to shine. 

Your writing has been described as “deliciously absurd” and “fantastical." Do you have techniques for tapping into the surreal side of your imagination and for surprising your readers?

I like to surprise myself before all. Anyone who comes to writing has probably started as an avid reader, and in reading a lot has come to absorb some implied rules – how to write a line of dialogue, for example, or even abstract things like how to describe a horizon or a tree. When I write fiction, it's important to me to pay attention to those impulses to adhere to a rule and avoid that impulse, see if I can subvert it somehow. Write the last thing I know. Tell, don't show. Throw half the dialogue out of quotation marks and see if it works. Think of the day's work as written in sand, not in stone. 

With two collections of short shorts – one of which won a coveted fiction award – and a novel published, you are quite prolific. Where do you find inspiration for all of these stories? Do you ever have writer’s block?

My inspiration comes from the intense, daily confusion I draw from life. I am confused five or six times a day. For example, I was confused this morning, lying in bed, thinking: Why did I wake up again? How many more times is that going to happen? Why am I thinking about this? From there, quiet meditation through breakfast could lead to something, or maybe I would get confused again at the coffee maker (How many people are making coffee in the building? What are they thinking about? Why are we all alone?) and then continue on. I don't believe in writer's block exactly as I think it's always possible to write something. I've had many weeks/months when most of my writing has, in hindsight, been pretty bad, and maybe that's its own block. Some self-forgiveness is necessary there. 

How did you make the transition from short story author extraordinaire to novelist?

Long before I tried to write a novel myself, I thought of each chapter of the novels I'd read as its own short story, linked to the stories around it, sure, but each ideally able to stand on its own. That compartmentalizing came into play when I was working on a novel myself. 

What advice do you have for aspiring fiction writers?
Read voraciously, write daily, forgive yourself. 

Here at Writing Pad, we're a little preoccupied with variations in writing process from writer to writer. Tell us about yours.

Mine changes from project to project but these days, I like to wake up, read the news, eat a little something for breakfast, then make coffee and write fiction for as long as I have coffee. The afternoon is for nonfiction, editing work and other projects. I'm doing a lot of calligraphy these days.

Thank you, Amelia, we've already learned a lot from you! Don't miss this opportunity to have Amelia's expertise rub off on you, as well, with her five week Fiction Bootcamp: Mastering the Art of the Tall Tale starting February 27th. She'll teach you her tricks for blending fantasy and reality and crafting story arcs that readers aren't able to put down. You'll get feedback on your work and even Amelia's advice on where to send it. Click on the link above and sign up before it's too late.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Writing Prompt: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing

Photo credit: Inspirational Daily
By Marilyn Friedman

Yesterday was  Valentine's Day and love was in the air. Balloons, flower, chocolate, and sticky sweet sentiments permeated the streets. While St. Valentine is best known for watching over lovers, he's also the patron saint of beekeepers, epilepsy, plague, fainting, and traveling, so even if you're single, we hope that you found something to celebrate on V Day. 

Today we are back to regularly scheduled affections and the most masochistic love of all – writing. Fortunately, Writing Pad is here to help take self-torture out of the process, and this week we have some of WP's finest offerings. Saturday, February 16th is bestselling memoirist Brett Paesel's ("Mommies Who Drink", More, Self) one day memoir class True Tales: Writing a Compelling Past. The evening of Sunday the 17th, the ever-popular Taffy Brodesser-Akner is doing You in 1200 Words: Writing the Personal Essay. Taffy has helped an astonishing 25 students get published – and you could be next after this one night class! Also, the five week Fiction Bootcamp with award-winning author Amelia Gray ("AM/PM", "Museum of the Weird", "THREATS", Tin House, McSweeney’s, Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize) is starting on February 27th.

Keep moving full steam ahead on your 2013 writing practice by looking through the fabulous class options below and then scrolling to the bottom of this blog post for your free writing prompt! See you soon.

Note: classes with an asterix (*) will be held at our new, posh Westside location in Westwood!
Hook Ups, Break Ups, And Missed Connections: Writing The Relationship Essay
What Do You Think? Writing the Op-Ed or Cultural Essay*
Getting to "Like": Crafting A Compelling Blog
Query Letter Clinic: Writing The Pitch That Sells Your Story

Playwriting and Writing for Actors
Get Into Character: A Character Monologue Workshop  
The You Show: A Solo Performance Intensive
Storytelling Bootcamp: A Spoken Workout

Punch It Up: Polishing Your TV Pilot (or Spec Script)
Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: Crafting Your Webisode Calling Card (1 DAY)*
Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: The Ten Page Workout*

I'm going to write about someone tall, dark, and handsome.
You don't know anyone that fits that description, do you? Wink, wink, Mr. Writing Pad.

Writing Prompt:
Make a list of five favorite appealing characteristics that your significant has or the one that got away had (or an imaginary significant other). What does he or she look like, smell like, sound like (e.g. his hands are warm like a steamed washcloth, he has big, flat feet like my father did)? Add one specific thing that person says or does that makes you weak between the knees – maybe it's the way he tucks the loose hair behind your ear or the cutesy nickname she gave you and says with a Southern drawl. Now add something annoying that this person does to the mix (e.g. picks his scabs, refuses to put his laptop in a case).

Now choose this character's favorite restaurant or place to escape and write a scene where you include as many of these following as you can in 10 minutes: a few of the appealing characteristics, the "weak in the knees" saying or behavior, and the annoying characteristic.

Perhaps a boyfriend's inability to stop picking his scabs ruins a romantic dinner at a special restaurant where they blindfolded you during the meal. Maybe the way that she absent-mindlessly hums when she chews lentils is so endearing that your character gets busy in the forest with a woman he met at a silent Vipassana meditation retreat. Have fun with it! When you are done with your ten minute write, post the results in the comments of this blog! 

For 10 minutes: write how a celebration of the perfect love goes wrong or how imperfect goes right. Share the results of your ten minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Crafting The Page-turner With Bestselling Author Janelle Brown

Are you ready to finally finish that novel you've been dreaming about? We think it's finally time to bring that story to life, and you can put yourself in the trusted hands of Janelle Brown to help you do so.

Brown's debut novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, was a national bestseller and Library Journal named it one of the best books of 2008. Slate called her 2010 follow-up, "Enthralling... Brown is at her best when she is exploring the neurosis of the ambitious artist, and many who are struggling to make a life in a creative profession will find This Is Where We Live to be almost uncomfortably familiar." 

A novelist, essayist and journalist, Brown's writing appears regularly in The New York Times, Vogue, Elle, Wired, Self, The Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. Previously, she spent five years as a senior writer at Salon, covering everything from the war on drugs and public policy issues to the digital music movement. She began her career as a staff writer at Wired during the heydey of the dotcom boom. 

We recently had a chance to catch up with Janelle and ask her all our burning questions.

As an accomplished journalist and essayist, what was the biggest adjustment when you made your foray into novel writing?

Definitely trying to finding the dividing line between writing too much and not enough. As a journalist, you are limited by both the truth and the kind of information that you gather in your reporting -- generally, if it's a good bit of information, a nice detail, a fun piece of dialogue, it makes it into the final article. 

As a novelist, your limit is simply your own imagination: it seems like there's an endlessly infinite amount of material you could put into your book. The key for me was learning how to edit down, to decide what helped my story and what was just "filler" that didn't do much for the bigger picture. I threw away a lot of material that I loved but that just wasn't necessary.

What was your inspiration for your first novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything?

Oddly enough, it was a passage in a book called Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media by Elaine Showalter. She wrote about chronic fatigue syndrome, and mentioned a family in which a mother and her three daughters all came down with the syndrome and never left the house for months at a time. I loved the hothouse feeling of this: all these women stuck in a house together over a summer, with only each other and their own issues for company. The mother and daughter relationship in extremis. And although I quickly lost the chronic fatigue idea, I gave my characters different issues and then shoved them inside that house in Santa Rita and shut the door. 

Your novels, This Is Where We Live and All We Ever Wanted Was Everything are page-turners. Do you have a technique for generating exciting story arcs?

I often think of a chapter as a "turn" -- I tend to write long chapters that take place over a short period of time, focused around one specific turn of events or plot twist. I always ask myself: Where is the character beginning this chapter, and where is he ending it (both emotionally and in the greater narrative arc of the plot)? My belief is that it should always be in a slightly different place. So as I'm embarking on a new chapter, I make sure that there is a significant enough "turn" to change the direction of that character and the greater course of the book.

It can be a very small turn (a decision to get a job, a realization that a character really wants to save their marriage) or a big turn (a decision to kiss an ex-girlfriend, to tear up a $200,000 check). But it should always register a change in emotion and intention. That's how a book keeps moving forward. 

How did your writing process change from the first to second novel?

I got a lot faster! I knew what I wanted more clearly, and understood more how structure works. Generally, though, the process was the same: A lot of experimentation at the beginning, a lot of tinkering with characters and plot, and a lot of material that ended up in the garbage before the characters started "talking" to me and telling me where to go with the story. 

What tricks of the trade do you use when you're stuck for ideas?

I do a few things, consistently:
  1. Read other books. I can't emphasize this enough. Great books often make me think about ideas and themes, which in turn helps me riff in new directions.
  2. Read the news. If anything, there's a GLUT of ideas that you can get just off your daily twitter feed.
  3. Talk to people. This is the most important. When I start talking out my ideas to people (friends, fellow writers, whoever will listen to me) I often end up brainstorming with them, and typically walk away having unearthed a whole raft of thoughts I didn't know I had buried inside me.

We recently reviewed the daily routines of famous writers. Tell us about yours.
  • Get up, spend three hours groggily drinking coffee, feeding two children and one husband, and attempting to get everyone dressed and off to school and work.
  • Go to my office and spend an hour or two procrastinating by reading the news, my favorite design blogs, Facebook, occasionally idly thinking about my book, etc.
  • Panic and realize that I only have four hours left in the day to get anything done before I have to pick up my daughter from school.
  • Read the previous day's writing. Do a little bit of editing. Hopefully feel inspired to continue on from this point.
  • Write frantically for as many hours as remain.
  • Spend the remaining part of the day again dealing with feeding and entertaining two small humans before collapsing into bed with whatever novel I'm reading.
Thanks, Janelle! That was inspiring! Join us as Writing Pad hosts A Novel Approach: Tackling the Long Format Writing Project with Janelle Brown this Sunday, February 10th and March 3rd where she'll share more of her secret techniques for crafting novels that are impossible to put down and for finishing the dreaded book length project. She'll even give you feedback on your own work! Click the link above to sign up before it's full.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Daily Writing Practices To Die For: Famous Writers Share Their Methods

In honor of the recently released Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, Brain Pickings did a feature on the daily routines of famous writers. With excerpts of wisdom from  Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, and many others, it's clear that brilliance manifests itself in a myriad of ways. 

It was hard to pick our favorites, but Joan Didion's daily writing practice seems to be very effective. Joan said,
"I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I’ve done that day. I can’t do it late in the afternoon because I’m too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes. When I’m really working I don’t like to go out or have anybody to dinner, because then I lose the hour. If I don’t have the hour, and start the next day with just some bad pages and nowhere to go, I’m in low spirits."
Did you know that Ernest Hemingway wrote while standing? In a Paris Review interview, George Plimpton wrote Hemingway "stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him."

And it seems that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin may have had the nation's first case of OCD:

Writing Pad student Courtney Kocak has an adrenaline-based writing practice similar to Susan Sontag. Susan said,
"I write in spurts. I write when I have to because the pressure builds up and I feel enough confidence that something has matured in my head and I can write it down. But once something is really under way, I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t go out, much of the time I forget to eat, I sleep very little. It’s a very undisciplined way of working and makes me not very prolific. But I’m too interested in many other things."
So what about you, how do you achieve peak performance? Do you write during the quiet hours of the morning or do you respond better to the darkness of the night? Are you regular as clockwork or are you the type to let your ideas marinate until they're nice and juicy?

Carefully consider your own writing process. In a perfect world, what are your most ideal writing circumstances? Tell us in the comments below about your writing practice and what helps and/or hinders your creative flow.