Writer Profile: Vincent Panella

Vincent PanellaIn her recent post about time, Jamie wrote, “Time. It’s what we writers fight for. Without it, we have no hope of bringing our written creations to life. We need time to study, time to read, time to ponder, time to dream, and of course – time to write.”

My neighbor Vincent Panella writes. He’s arranged his entire adult life around writing. “When I’m writing, I’m happy,” he says. “When I’m not writing I’m not happy.”

Vincent wrote his first novel when he was twenty-three, while he was in the army. “I drank six pots of coffee a day and the book poured out of me. But my writing was better than my characters, I didn’t have any knowledge of form.”

He burned the manuscript –and wrote five more novels – or maybe six; he’s lost count. At one point, he had an agent; Vincent Panellaat another, he sold a novel to Simon & Schuster, but they never published the book. “I’ve had a lot of near successes,” he says – and he keeps writing.

After graduating from the Iowa Workshop in 1971, Panella spent a year as a reporter for a daily paper – a job he loved for what he learned, but it kept him too busy with daily deadlines to write fiction. He switched to jobs teaching writing at law schools in Iowa and Florida before landing in Vermont.

Otherside by Vincent PanellaDespite growing up in Queens, Panella found life in New York City too distracting for writing. “You create a world you inhabit and you think about it all the time,” he says. In the course of his career, he has written in a closet, in a small cabin, and in now in a comfortable outbuilding on his Vermont farm. Even when he was teaching, Panella started every day in the studio building beside his old farmhouse, where he writes by hand. “I don’t turn the computer on until later in the day. I try not to check email until I finish writing.”

Cutter'sIsland by Vincent PanellaTen years ago, Panella took a year off from teaching to write full time. He never went back. Since then, he’s published two books and written countless stories.

Cutter’s Island (Chicago Review Press) came out in 2009 to critical success. In 2010, Panella self- LostHearts by Vincent Panellapublished Lost Hearts, a collection of short stories, also to great reviews. While he’s glad he brought the stories out, he says, “I don’t have the energy for that any more. It’s too much of a hustle, and I just want to write.”

Now 75, Panella is currently concentrating on novellas and short stories. His novella Canada can be read on line at wipsjournal.com. He’s now more concerned about writing than selling his work. He says, “I have more stories to write than I have time and more work than I can really accomplish, and I think that’s a good thing.”

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, blogger, and pen for hire. Learn more about her writing services on line at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Is Multitasking a Way to Be More Productive?

Multitasking – it’s a method of working that easily divides an audience: folks seem to embrace it or run from it.

Do you find multitasking productive? Or a time suck?

I think of multitasking as leap frogging. For instance, you start replying to emails, end up clicking on a link within an email, and then get lost in the endless world known as the Internet. One page leads to another leads to another leads to another and before you know it, an hour has passed and there are still several emails to reply to.

Do you accomplish more when multitasking? Is it the way you find the success that you want? Or do you think multitasking sets you up for failure because you don’t get much accomplished?

Like anything, I don’t think it’s absolutely-multitask-all-the-time or avoid-multitasking-all-together. There can be a balance; it’s a matter of finding what works best.

Confession: As I wrote this post, I kept checking e-mails and managed to get sucked into the Internet through one of those ‘read more’ links like I mentioned above. <grin> So instead of just cranking through this blog post in 30 or so minutes, it took me a couple of hours. Multitasking did not benefit me in this instance!

Multitasking does work at times, though. For instance, when I’m in a waiting room or in a line – I can reply to and clean out old emails, sort and save emails, and schedule activities and events. Similarly, if I’m waiting for something to update online, I can reply to inquiries on Twitter and Facebook.

How about you? Do you find multitasking beneficial in saving time or a way to extend the time taken on tasks?

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition – The Magic of Clarity Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The Magic of Clarity

lightning treeWriting is an alchemical process that transforms modest words into entire worlds. We begin with an amorphous idea and the ability to string words together in a way that taps into our senses and emotions. We weave a spell that evokes a sense of time and place and experience. Using only these humble tools, we build an alternate reality. We give life to the players on our stage and send them off into adventures of our own devising. If that is not magic, I don’t know what is.

Imagination and creativity are oft-cited ingredients in the story-crafting elixir, but there is another, less frequently cited ingredient that is at least (if not more) important: clarity.

Clarity is both your inspiration and your North Star.

Though you may not know it, it is often the spark that ignites your imagination. It is that bolt of lightning that strikes you – a compelling character, thought-provoking question, or deep belief – that will eventually pierce the earth of your creative mind to become the roots of a story. And, once those roots have taken hold, clarity is the guiding force that shapes your story.

Clarity brings focus and purpose to your writing. It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity about your writing, you know what you want to say and you know how you want to say it. Writer’s Block becomes a thing of the past.

So, for your craft, clarity is a boon, a near-magical tool that gives you the power to sharpen your storytelling skills and put the weight of purpose and intention behind your writing work. But what about in your writing life?

Last Saturday’s weekend edition asked whether you are a plotter or a panster in your writing life. Are you intentional about where you want to go as a writer and how you get there, or are you kind of winging it and following the path of least resistance? About a month ago, I asked, once again, why we write and included links to some earlier posts on the topic.  This is clearly a question that fascinates me. What drives us to write at all? What drives us to write particular kinds of things?

I’m not here to say that one path or one purpose is better than any other. Each of us is on a unique journey.

I’m just curious about what might happen if in addition to applying clarity to our craft, we also sought clarity about the driving force behind our craft … the “why” of our writing. I wonder how digging down to the roots of our creative urges and desires might change or enhance our work.

What do you think? Have you already discovered the why that fuels your creativity, or are you unsure about where it all comes from? Do you think understanding your personal source would be good for your work, or somehow rob it of some power?

What I’m Learning About Writing:

zeus pippaSometimes the Universe has a funny way of getting our attention and clarity comes to us unexpectedly in a palm-to-forehead moment.

My daughter has a dog-walking business, and sometimes (when dogs need to be walked before school gets out, for instance) yours truly has the pleasure of taking one set of pooches or another out for an afternoon stroll. Yesterday afternoon it was the fine pair of Zeus, a handsome standard poodle, and Miss Pippa, a feisty little corgi.

As the three of us made our somewhat mincing way along the slushy roadside, I let myself get a little lost in thoughts about the value of clarity and intention and purpose in my writing. It was no small accomplishment to keep my train of thought while simultaneously managing Zeus in my right hand, Pippa in my left, and my own two feet. My exploratory reverie was interrupted only when Miss Pippa managed to get us tangled up in her leash. Unfortunately, this was a fairly frequent occurrence.

No matter how many times I tried to convince her to stay on my left side, little Pippa kept somehow kept winding up on my right. The trouble was that she got there by crossing behind me, a maneuver that meant I had to either twirl around (raising both leashes over my head as though I were some kind of human May Pole) or manage to nimbly jump (backwards, mind you) over Miss P’s leash. Obviously, neither of these were easy to accomplish, especially with Zeus tugging ahead and ice underfoot.

My moment of oh-my-gods-of-course epiphany came when I realized that all I had to do to avoid this knotted situation was to hold Zeus’ leash in my left hand and Pippa’s in my right. Problem solved.

You’re probably shaking your head at my inability to figure this solution out faster. I don’t blame you. But, the thing is, I was so set on doing things a certain way, that I never even considered how such a simple change could eliminate the issue. The same thing can apply to our creative endeavors. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in a certain approach or process that we become blind to all the alternatives. We get, almost literally, stuck in our ways.

But, a quick shift in your perspective or practice might be all it takes to unravel a knot or remove an obstacle.

How might you change things up to better facilitate flow in your creative work? Is there something you’re doing (probably without even realizing it) to hinder your progress?

What I’m Reading:

book pilgimage desireI don’t typically read memoirs, but last spring my friend Alison Gresik published her travel memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to get around to reading it. I’m also very glad that I finally made the time to travel alongside Alison on her journey.

In the afterword, Alison beautifully sums up the purpose behind her labors on this book ~

I wrote Pilgrimage of Desire for all those who feel trapped in a life that doesn’t let them practice their creativity in a way that feeds their soul, for those who have so much to express but have boxed themselves in with rules and responsibilities.

The book is an account of several milestone events in Alison’s life including the adoption of her two children, and the reinvention of her domestic life when she and her husband embarked on an open-ended trip around the world when their kids were only five and three, and her battle with walking depression. Interwoven with these stories, Alison shares her experience of walking the “desire lines” writing passion.

Alison’s is a story full of simple yet poignant discoveries. As she says of why her modest story matters, “Because it’s not exotic and sensational. I’m not unusual or extraordinary. I’m just a woman who decided to stop trying to be a good girl and go after what she wanted. A woman who realized that she could do more for the world by being herself.”

One of my favorite passages in Pilgrimage tells of Alison’s experience of rediscovering her own god, Amma, while walking a labyrinth at a women’s retreat. I also loved the honest thoughts she shared about the fears and desires each of us has about her creative work such as, “I needed to reframe work as something I did for myself as much as others – a way of caring for myself, a source of meaning and joy, not just of money and approval.”

And this moment, when she addressed her work-in-progress, made me want to stand up and cheer,

Pilgrimage, let’s have some angels join us in the writing. The Angel of Flow, who wears watered silk in shades of blue. The Angel of Love in pink spandex. The Angel of Poetry, black and white words dripping off her fingers. The Angel of Getting Your Shit Together, in tight jeans and a rock-and-roll T-shirt. The Angel of Truth and Beauty, who combines the grace of Venus with the mouth of a trucker. Together we’re going to rock this manuscript.

At the end of each chapter, Alison includes exercises that you, as a fellow seeker of creative fulfillment, can use to help uncover your own patterns, motivations, and triggers. She draws on her experience as a student and creative coach, generously sharing words of wisdom and resources she has found on her journey.

If you are an artist and a seeker, if you are someone who is trying to find your way on a creative journey and might benefit from following the faintly luminescent trail of someone who has walked the labyrinth before you, Alison Gresik’s memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire might be the perfect traveling companion.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin what it is

Here’s to gaining clarity and finding purpose, but always following your desire lines and being open to the obvious solutions that are right in front of you. xo
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Lightning Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

Friday Fun — Testing your story’s opening

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: How do you test your story’s opening?

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: First of all, I sit on it. After I write my story, I give it time away to do a little bit of maturing. Because I’ve got tech writing in my blood and I feel comfortable with plotting (as opposed to pantsing) once the story and I have both had time to settle down, I go over the beginning with a checklist that looks very much like the rubrics you had to use when writing high school papers.

  • Is there a hook?
  • Have I introduced the hero?
  • Is there conflict?
  • Have I created tension?
  • Is there too much back story?
  • Have I grounded the scene by including descriptions from all five senses?
  • Have I given the reader a reason to turn the page?

Those first few paragraphs can make or break the story. You have to be sure you’ve hit all the highlights and, for me, the best way I know of doing this is to write my first draft, give it time, and then revise with what’s missing according to my list.

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace:  I’m still learning about beginnings. I’ll probably always be learning about them. The story openings I like best are the ones that make a promise. It doesn’t have to be an overt promise or a specific promise; it just has to make me feel like something is going to happen. More specifically, it has to make me feel like something worth experiencing is going to happen. The first few lines of a story or pages of a book need to whisper in my ear about a secret that will be revealed, a mystery that will be solved, or a discovery that will be made. A good opening captures my interest and my imagination and burrows into my mind, pulsing there like the beat of my heart with a quietly urgent drumbeat of possibility. I know I’ve read a good beginning when I swear I can hear the book calling to me from across the room. And then, dear gods of literature, I pray only that the rest of the story is as good as those first few lines.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Interesting question. Let me tell you about the beginning of Just Killing Time, my debut novel in the Clock Shop Mystery series, due out October 6. I wrote a proposal for this cozy series, which included the first three chapters. Those first three chapters got me the gig. The first chapter was from the point of view of the person who got killed–the inciting incident for the entire book (and series). I got a lot of “well written”, but a lot of push back on the beginning once the entire novel was finished. It wasn’t the beginning of a cozy mystery. Too dark, and it set the wrong tone. So, I changed the whole thing, and cut that chapter entirely.

In a previous novel (in a drawer, may see the light of day at some point), I kept getting “slow” and “drags” comments. So I kept cutting the beginning, and cutting the beginning, and cutting the beginning. The final beginning was the old page 50. You have to be ruthless–if you lose the reader at the beginning, or set up a false promise (great analogy Jamie), it doesn’t work.

 

How is Writing Like Knitting and Performing Abdominal Surgery?

Lately I’ve been knitting, and it got me thinking about my writing. If you are not a knitter, you may not have noticed that people knit from round balls of yarn but yarn is not sold in round balls. It’s sold in skeins. The reason people have round balls of yarn is they take the skein of yarn and unwind it and wind it back up into a ball.

Knitters do this in order run the yarn through their hands. You have to examine all of the yarn because if there is a knot somewhere in the middle of the skein, you need to know about it. If you find a knot, you can cut it out. You’ll be left with two smaller balls of yarn, neither of which will have a knot in it.

A knot in the middle of a row of knitting looks terrible and can ruin a project if it happens to fall in the wrong place. Thinking about this process in knitting led me to thinking about abdominal surgery.

In trauma surgery, the surgeon will “run the bowels” if a patient has trauma to the abdomen (such as a stab wound.) That means the surgeon holds the small intestines in his or her hands, examining every inch of it for any perforations, as even a tiny hole can lead to infection and death.

As writers, we have to do the same thing, metaphorically speaking, with our pieces. I’m currently working on a short story that I started last year. There’s a part of me that is entirely sick of it. I’m so familiar with the story by now that it’s easy to skim through it and miss obvious mistakes, never mind the subtle nuances of style and effect.

One way that I “run” my story is by reading it out loud, which I do periodically. Another way is by retyping it into the computer from a printed out version. I find this to be unreliable as I can skim as I type, but it’s better than nothing.

The best way I know to “run” my story, once I feel it is nearly complete, is to have someone read it to me (or to listen to it after I’ve recorded it) and retype it as they speak (or as I listen to the recording).

While this process can be tedious, for me it’s a necessary step, to make sure my piece doesn’t have any knots or holes in it.

What’s your process for polishing your writing piece?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m currently goggling at the fact that two months of 2015 have almost gone by already! I can’t believe it’s almost March. I need to keep plugging away at my writing goals before the end of March–the end of the first quarter of 2015!

 

Report from Book Jail: It’s a Plot

Well, not really book jail. Book jail is when the hot breath of a deadline is upon you, and meeting the deadline is all encompassing. My Wicked Cozy Author blog mates and I talk a lot about book jail, especially since four of us have deadlines within a month of each other. May/June isn’t going to be pretty.

I read Jamie’s post from Saturday about being a pantser versus a plotter. I am a dedicated plotter. In fact, a lot of my writing time is spent actually working out my plot. I’m in phase two of the process, writing the scenes I’ve laid out. I write in Scrivener, and in order. This isn’t to say there won’t be changes along the way, but I’ve worked out the main plot, the subplots, and the red herrings. The puzzle has been worked out. Unless one of my characters goes off the rails (this has been known to happen, but we all tussled during the plotting), the roadmap is a good one.

The challenge of this phase is that it is a slog. The words in my head are perfect. The act of typing them into my computer makes them less so, but fixing that is phase three. I can’t edit a blank page, so the slog is on.

I talked about Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect in my New Year’s post. I’m going to recommend it again, highly. Paula did a great interview on Jungle Red Writers, with visuals about her sixty scene structure. It is a variation on traditional dramatic three act structure, with the middle broken into two sections.

Of course, to figure out dramatic structure, you have to have your story to guide you. Working on plotting forces you to work on details, and flesh them out. It can also make you think about whether your idea is a book, or a short story. In other words, if you’re done telling the story after 2500 words, you have a short story. Stop, polish, submit. I’ve had short stories that turned into novels. and novels turn into short stories. The story is what it needs to be.

Given that we are a bit snow bound here in New England, it is a good time to think through a plot. How to begin?

Start with an idea. Write it down on an index card. Ask yourself “and then what?” over and over. Write down each answer on a card. Now look at each card, and ask “who” and “why”, write those answers down. Some of these answers may make you fill out more cards, maybe as part of the main story, or maybe as part of a subplot. The beauty of the index cards is that you can change the order of the story as you need to. Maybe you thought you started at the beginning, but you really started in the middle, and need to fill in the front part of the story so it works. Or, and this has happened to me more than once, you start your novel too early. Backstory slows down the momentum, so you need to cut it, and sprinkle it throughout the rest of the novel.

Plotting helps you build a road map for writing your book. You may not follow the roadmap exactly, but it will move you forward.

Now, this may not work for you at all. But it may help you stick with it. Writing is a process. Plotting may help you with that process.

So, are you a plotter or a pantser? How’s your writing going on these snowy days?

**********

J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time will debut in October, 2015.

Frank Underwood Saves the Humane Society

If you haven’t read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, you should – right now. It’s a reference written primarily for screen writers but the guidelines also work for other writers. In a nut shell, the premise is that within the first few minutes of a movie (or pages of a book) the hero needs to do something significant to make us align with and like him.

The hero saves the cat or he calls home or he brings flowers to mom or he get up so that an older woman can sit down – you get the idea, he has to do something that humanizes him and that immediately puts us in his court. We like him because he took the time to do something we would consider doing.

In movies (and TV) this is particularly important. Take a look at this trailer for House of Cards season 1 (where it was paramount that we immediately like the main character.) Frank Underwood is a sly fox, he’s part of political Washington. We shouldn’t trust a word he says, BUT because once we see that he is addressing *us* directly in the very beginning of the show (literally minutes), we realize that we’re being treated as a confidant. He’s letting us in on the joke.

We trust one of the most devious characters in recent TV history, because he saved the cat – in a big way. He addressed us directly and now we feel like we are part of a secret club. As devious as Frank behaves, we know that he will always be honest with us.

That inauguration scene knocks House of Cards out of the ball park. Frank Underwood, not only saved the cat, but he personally bankrolled the entire Humane Society.

We love him. We’re on team Frank.

Go back to some of the movies you’ve loved over the years. Watch only the first few minutes and see if you can figure out where the cat is saved.

And then, try to translate that action into your writing. No matter what your work is (with the exception of non-fiction how-to) you’ll need to humanize your hero. If it’s a romance, we need to see that the hero may be clumsy but he’s got a soft heart. If you’ve got a memoir, establish up front how people can connect to you, use an example of a time when you stumbled and by the end of the story, correct that stumble to show people how you’ve grown. Same rules apply to any fiction (YA, Romance, mystery, etc) give us a reason to care about your hero and then give us a reason to put ourselves in his shoes. Make us like your character.

Saving the cat is one of those little tools that is so subtle, you may not even catch it the first time you see it, but if you learn to recognize the technique, then like buying a new car, pretty soon, you’ll start seeing that exact model all over the place.

Once seen, trust me, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Feel free to share any “Save the Cat” moments from favorite movies or books in the comments.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

It’s a challenge to be your own boss

Being your own boss is thrilling, isn’t it? It’s nice to not have someone to report to every day. You don’t have to deal with someone hassling you if you don’t show up or if you spend all your time chasing dust bunnies, shiny objects, or killing time on Snapchat or Facebook.

Of course you want to impress your clients, but they come and go and care about what you can do for them, not necessarily about your personal success.

There’s a lot of freedom (insert Mel Gibson’s scream from “Braveheart”) in working for yourself. Maybe too much at times.

To be successful and keep your business on track, you need to think like a boss. What do I mean? Here are a few tips.

  • Determine and write down your goals
    • Yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals will help you achieve the success you want. Written goals keep you focused.
  • Set check-ins and review milestones
    • Schedule time in your calendar, at least quarterly to review your progress on your goals.
  • Set and stick to a schedule
    • When working for someone else, you had to show up at a certain time, it’s just as important t o set a schedule for yourself and show up daily. It doesn’t have to be 8-5 5 days a week, but you should have a regular schedule – consistency and predictability are great for productivity.
  • Track your time
    • Use a timer and track how long  you spend doing different tasks – including those ‘shiny object’ time wasters. Tracking billable hours is imperative to running a successful business.

If you had a boss, you’d be responsible for all of the above – you’d be accountable for achieving certain tasks each day, week, month, quarter, and year. You’d even have once- (or perhaps twice) -a-year reviews. Which brings up another critical requirement for being your own boss: the self-evaluation.

It can be tricky evaluating yourself, so a tip here is to act as though you’re reviewing someone else — it’s important to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses to achieve the success you want. No one else will see the report, but spend time on an honest evaluation, as it can only help you achieve the success you’re after.

So if you start acting like the boss, you can the success that you want in your own business.

Why not start now? You’re the boss – even if you’re the only employee. 

 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition – Plotting vs. Pansting Your Writing Life Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Plotting vs. Pantsing Your Writing Life

Following the path ... or not.

Following the path … or not.

Are you a plotter or a panster?

It’s a question you hear often in the company of writers, and one that can inspire spirited debate. While pansters revere the tempestuous graces of the muse, plotters bow down before the gods of structure. These two factions are the yin and yang of writerly creativity – though they appear to be exact opposites, they are actually two halves of a whole.

If I had to choose, I’d tell you that I’m a panster. I like to plan things out before I start writing. I love the story of how JK Rowling supposedly spent years (years!) outlining the Harry Potter books before ever putting down a single word of the series. I geek out on posts about how to “build” a great story and love dissecting my favorite books and movies so I can see their insides – the plots, character arcs, inciting incidents, pinch points, and all that good stuff.

But …

There are also plenty of times when I venture forth without any carefully crafted plans and simply abandon myself to the wild dance of the muse. The pages of my journals are filled with the inky footprints of such encounters as my pen careens between the margins, fairly leaping off the page. Often, my weekly columns (and, sometimes these weekend edition essays) begin with a premeditated design, but shift and evolve when some mischievous force takes me by the hand and tugs me off the path and into the woods.

And, that’s ok.

With art, the process is as important as the final product. The experience is what brings your creation to life.

But, what about life?

Are you creating your life as a plotter or a panster?

Is one approach better than the other?

These are not questions with right or wrong answers. They are simply questions worth asking. Though I am generally considered a very organized, productive, and responsible person (oh, the kiss of death for anyone wanting to be considered an “artiste”), I have spent a surprising majority of my days following the path of least resistance. It is only in recent years that I have begun to be more intentional in my choices. Took me long enough.

As with writing, I think that it’s best to live life somewhere between plotting and pansting. All things in moderation, they say, and perhaps it should be so when it comes to either planning or surrendering to spontaneity. Having a life plan can help you attain your goals, but if you stick too closely to your predetermined path, you will miss the transformative experiences and life-changing opportunities that live on the back roads and walkabouts of impromptu side trips.

And what about your writing life? Are you creating that more as a plotter or a panster?

As with my life in general, I have only recently begun to be more intentional about how I define myself as a writer, build my body of work, and set my writing goals. I am making a conscious effort to learn more about the logistics of a writing life (publishing, marketing, how to be an author entrepreneur, etc.) as well as the craft. I am revisiting childhood dreams of being a novelist while also exploring other possibilities that have presented themselves over the course of my wandering travels through the creative experience. If, for instance, you had asked me as a young wannabe writer whether I had any interest in writing essays or non-fiction books, I would have said no. However, having said “yes” to unplanned experiences with these forms, I have been inspired to consider all kinds of new creative prospects.

Plotting. Pansting. It’s all just figuring stuff out – some of it ahead of time and some of it while we’re in the thick of things.

 

What I’m Learning About Writing: Writing Excuses Takes Listeners to School

writing excuses logoWriting Excuses is, by far, my favorite podcast on the writing craft. Hosted by four diverse and talented working writers and often featuring well-known writer guests, this fun and brief (each episode is only about fifteen minutes long because, as the podcast’s tagline proclaims, “you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”) audio show is packed start to finish with eye-opening epiphanies, brass tacks tips, and loads of good humor. Listening to the show is like getting to eavesdrop on a coffee house conversation between a bunch of super smart, witty, and down-to-earth writers who really know what they’re doing.

ANYway …

Though I highly recommend each and every episode in their archives, I am especially enjoying the current season (season 10) which they’ve decided to structure as a sort of “mini master class” on the writing craft. They explain in the show notes of the season’s first episode, Writing Excuses 10.1: Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas? :

We wanted to do something different this year. Something special. As we brainstormed we kept returning to something a listener said years ago: “Writing Excuses is like a master class in writing genre fiction.”

That’s a generous remark, as anyone who’s taken an actual master class can attest, but it inspired us to ask ourselves what Writing Excuses would look sound like if it were formatted like an actual master class.

The answer? It would sound like Season 10 is going to sound. This year we’re going to go to school! Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits. We’ll still have some “wildcard” episodes with guests, but for at least three weeks out of each month we’re going to stay on topic. If you’re new to the podcast, this is where to start! If you’re an old hand, don’t worry — this isn’t a return to the 101-level stuff.

As I recently said to a writer friend, I know I really like a podcast when I constantly want to hit “Pause” so I can take notes. Writing Excuses makes me do that all the time. I hope you’ll listen and would love to hear your impressions.

What I’m Reading: The Silence Of Bonaventure Arrow

book bonaventure arrowSaying that a book “casts a spell on the reader” is rather cliche, but in the case of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow it’s a cliche that fits.

The novel is the debut of author Rita Leganski and it is the kind of book that envelopes you in its own reality, making the world around you fade into the background as you slip deeper and deeper into the life of the story. I was intrigued and enchanted from page one. Here is an excerpt of the description from the Harper Collins website:

Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. But he was listening, placing sound inside quiet and gaining his bearings. By the time he turns five, he can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He also hears the voice of his dead father, William Arrow, mysteriously murdered by a man known only as the Wanderer.

Exploring family relics, he opens doors to the past and finds the key to a web of secrets that both hold his family together, and threaten to tear them apart.

Set in 1950s New Orleans, the book transported me through both space and time and into a world where ghosts and magic are part of the everyday world and where one little boy with very special gift peels away the layers of lives and reality to uncover family connections and truths that are both tragic and sweet.

Leganski’s prose is both lyrical and whimsical. She tells the story with the language and musicality of a poet without ever sacrificing character development or plot. Though my writer’s mind was aware of her gorgeous descriptions, metaphors, and stories within stories, I was never once drawn away from the action happening on the page.

The last few pages of this novel brought me to tears, but they were the good kind of tears, full of recognition and release. I recommend this book from the bottom of my heart. It’s a wonderful read and one that I expect I will return to both for the pleasure of rereading and the education of studying her craft.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

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Here’s to finding your way – planned or spontaneous – and always enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Friday Fun — What would your writing space look like?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: If you could imagine any kind of writing space, what would it look like?

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: This is an easy one for me because I’ve been imagining a writing space for the last few years. I’m incredibly intrigued by the whole tiny house movement, I even went to a workshop on how to build tiny houses. Simply love the idea of a compact, living space where everything is in its place. HOWEVER, being the mom of 6 kids is not exactly conducive to tiny house living and so I’ve resigned myself to *someday* having a tiny writer’s cabin. Ideally, I’d love to have it located in the woods, by a stream, next to wildflowers, or on a beach, with windows facing the ocean, so that I could hear the waves. Of course it has to have wi-fi, electricity, a kick-ass writer’s desk (something with history and an embedded story), a comfy reading chair, book shelves, and some sort of heat  (winters are stinking cold in New Hampshire.)

What I want is a safe little, beautiful pod in which to compose my thoughts. Someday, someday.

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I feel spoiled. Although my writing space is smack in the middle of my living room, I write at a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind desk (a handmade gift from my sweet and talented beau) that looks out over an always interesting and ever changing view of the river, town landing, and eastern sky. My writing time is usually spent in the company of my two cats, one of whom is typically curled up in the cat bed on my desk while the other finds some equally comfortable spot elsewhere in the room.

While part of me occasionally pines for a room of my own, when I really think about it, I actually have little desire to sequester myself away in isolation and quiet. I adore being able to write in the midst of my real life, even when the presence of that real life requires that I wear headphones to maintain any level of concentration. I enjoy writing in noisy cafes and on trains and in libraries. I like blurring the lines between the real world and the world inside my head.

So, I guess the writing space I like best is the invisible cocoon I spin around myself when I write. It may not be a tangible space, but I can take it with me everywhere I go, which makes it kind of magical. And who wouldn’t like a magical writing space?

Writing Studio In SnowDeborah Lee Luskin: I don’t have to imagine it, because I’ve been writing in my dream-come-true writing studio since March 1, 2011. (I wrote about it in my post, Art & Architecture.) It’s where I get the words down, and it’s especially conducive to creating and sustaining the complex, imaginary world of a literary novel. I call it my Chapel of the Imagination.

 

DeskBut the truth is, words are always bubbling around in my head, and I think of essays, posts, and technical solutions to all kinds of narrative knots while I’m in the car, the kitchen, the garden, the grocery store. It’s being out in the world that stimulates the ideas, connects me to clients, irritates me to editorialize. And it’s at my desk where I sort out the argument, discover what I want to say and the best way to get my ideas across. There are even days when I deliberately vacate my studio in search of the background hubbub of a cafe.