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Posts tagged ‘non-fiction’

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk: Your elusive creative genius

For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, TED talks are delivered at a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.  TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, and Bill Gates, to name a few.

I love this talk on nurturing creativity delivered by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love in 2009.  Enjoy and happy writing with your elusive creative genius.

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Have you been writing? I have.

Wow!  A break of 20 days feels like an eternity.  I should have warned you ahead of time, but it didn’t start out as an intentional break.  It started out as a long weekend in the mountains which led to several weeks filled with deadline sensitive work and then led to several days of complacency.  Writing is like anything else you do regularly – it takes discipline.  And once you’re out of the habit, it’s harder and harder to bring yourself back to it.

The good news is that I’ve been writing – a lot.  The writing has mostly been journalistic endeavors and non-fiction pieces, but that’s what pays the bills.  And I do love my bread-and-butter writing projects.  They are comfortable and easy and keep my fingers limber and my mind active.  I’ve also been plugging away on a business plan for a nonprofit organization in our area.  Business plans go hand in hand with the strategic planning arm of my consulting business, but I’ve never actually penned one start-to-finish.  What an in-depth project!  And time consuming.  It’s always exciting to watch a young organization transform from a small mom-and-pop organization to a fully staffed and sustainable nonprofit – at least on paper.  Once that part is finished, the work is in the hands of the capable volunteers (soon to be staff) of the organization.  I couldn’t be happier for them.

I’ve also taken a stab at reorganizing my schedule to include more time for fiction writing.  At the end of February, much to my chagrin, I realized that I was spending more time writing about fiction writing than actually writing fiction.  That needed to change.  So I got back to my fiction writing with a vengeance.  I’m attending a writer’s conference at the end of April, and knew that I needed to have some serious wordcount under my belt in order to feel legitimate in the fiction workshops.  I’m pleased to say the ideas have been flying onto the page.  The “map” has been a wonderful tool – and as it always goes with fiction writing, my characters have taken on personalities of their own and are leading me to places that aren’t even on the map.  Those magical places surfacing from the crevices of my subconscious are the best gifts you can receive as a fiction writer.  In spite of the fact that I feel fidgety when my characters veer from the safety of the map, I know that these adventures are the ones into which I need to dive the most deeply.

How have you all been? How’s the writing going?

Words of Inspiration for Writers

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer. – RAY BRADBURY


The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home. – JOHN CAMPBELL


Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any. – ORSON SCOTT CARD


Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it… – MICHAEL CRICHTON


One of my standard — and fairly true — responses to the question as to how story ideas come to me is that story ideas only come to me for short stories. With longer fiction, it is a character (or characters) coming to visit, and I am then obliged to collaborate with him/her/it/them in creating the story. – ROGER ZELAZNY

Using Scrivener to Write a Novel

** I’m hosting a Scrivener giveaway.  You might want to check out the giveaway post and enter to win your own copy of Scrivener. The contest closes on Wednesday, February 22 at 8 PM MST. **

When I’m drafting my fiction or my long non-fiction projects, my go-to software is Scrivener*.  Let me preface this discussion by saying that I’m not perked in any way and I don’t receive any freebies from the people over at Literature and Latte, the company that created Scrivener.  I plunked down my own $40US (very reasonable in my opinion) to buy my own version of the program just like the rest of the world.  So no freebies – I just love the program, because it has brought a new level of organization to my writing life.

For a long time Scrivener was only available for Macs, and believe me I didn’t need yet another excuse to buy a Mac.  However, I use a PC and in early 2012, Literature and Latte finally released a full-version of the program for PCs.  You can bet I jumped on board.  Here are the top five reasons why:

1.  Brainstorming with the Corkboard: When I’m brainstorming for a novel, I have a million ideas jotted down on napkins, notebook, iPhone notes, etc.  Scrivener gives me one place to store all of them.  We’ve already established that I’m a visual person (I love Pinterest).  Scrivener’s corkboard gives me a visual way to see and rearrange my scenes and ideas.  I can include notecards, photos and sound clips, and rearrange them to my liking.

2.   Writing Templates: Scrivener comes with writing templates built in.  When I start a new project, I can easily pull up a template for a novel, short story, research proposal or screenplay, and be ready to roll in minutes.  You can even create a file of your recipes using Scrivener’s templates.

My favorite part is the ability to customize my own template.  Yesterday we talked about the 4-part structure which many people use when drafting a novel.  I’ve created my own 4-part Template complete with notes by famous writing craft-gods (like Larry Brooks and Anne Greenwood Brown) to give me reminders of things to think about when I’m drafting my scenes.  I also included templates for characters sketches, sheets on which I can trace my character’s arcs, and even a place for setting descriptions.

3.   Scene Ideas and Keywords: Do you ever have a brilliant idea for a scene, but you don’t know where it will fit in your story? In the Novel Template I created, I have a folder for Scene Ideas.  The folder has two sections: “Ideas to Be Placed” and “Ideas Not Placed.”  The Ideas to Be Placed are scenes that I know will appear in the story at some point.  I just don’t know when and where when I come up with the idea.  The Ideas Not Placed is the folder where I dump all of the other scene brainstorming that doesn’t make the final cut of the novel.  These scenes are sometimes useful during rewrites, might make their way into another book, or might never see the light of day beyond the “Ideas Not Placed” folder.  I can code the cards with keywords (which appear as color bars on the side of the notecards) so that when I’m searching for that perfect scene I dreamt about three weeks ago which applies to the romantic sub-plot, I can sort by keyword and instantly find the notes.

4.  Scene Manipulation: Let’s take the organizational function a step further.  Let’s say your scene ideas are fully fleshed out.  You’ve been hopping around, writing scenes that appeal to you when inspiration strikes – rather than writing in order.  It’s time to place one of your “homeless” scenes.  Open your Scene Ideas folder and drag the appropriate card to the right Chapter folder.  Rearrange your Chapter cards until the scene is in just the right place.  The brilliant part?  Scrivener reorders your manuscript for you.  If you were to print the manuscript, the new scene would appear right where you put it.  No cutting and pasting.  No copying and then hunting for the right spot in your 200-page manuscript to insert the new scene.  Drag and drop the card and the entire scene appears in the right spot.

5.  Research: I love Evernote and Pinterest and my Internet Explorer Favorites folder, but it’s tough to toggle back and forth between five things to find just the right fact or figure.  That’s where the Scrivener Research folder is helpful.  I can save images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files—right inside Scrivener.  The split screen option allows me to look at one file while typing in my manuscript simultaneously.  This was hugely helpful when I transcribed hours of interviews for my non-fiction book last summer.

I even have a Scrivener Project file for my Writing Project ideas.  It contains folders for Long Fiction, Short Fiction, Theatre, Children’s Fiction, Articles and Non-Fiction.  This is where I store all of my notes and ideas when I’m in the thick of a project.  Never fail, you’re hard at work on Draft #2 of a magazine article, and an idea for a new novel pops into your head.  I open the Long Fiction folder and start a new file for the novel idea.  I can spend 15 minutes jotting down notes and saving some research links, and I know it will all be waiting for me when my work in progress is complete.

If you haven’t tried Scrivener, Literature and Latte has a free 30-day trial.  Feel free to download my 4-Part Novel Template.  It might just give you the push you need to finish that novel you’ve been dreaming about or reignite your enthusiasm for a floundering project.

FYI – There are a few other free templates (here and here) out there for Scrivener.  One even uses the 4-part structure. Mine is a little different because it includes lots of writing tips from professional writers who are also craft gurus.  It also includes different scene cards, notes on scene development, etc.  Pick and choose the one that works best for you.  Or better yet, create your own to fit your writing style and brainstorming needs.

Click here to download the Scrivener Template zip file. You’ll be prompted to save the file.  Save the Zip file to your desktop or another convenient spot.  Unzip the file and copy the entire folder to the same location.  You must own a copy of Scrivener or have the free trial version to use the template file.

Open Scrivener –> File –> Open –> Open the Folder “Novel STM 4-Part Template.scriv” –> Open “project”.

Once the project is open, you can save it as a reusable template.

File –> Save as Template –> Name the file “Novel STM 4-Part” –> Select Category “Fiction” –> Click OK.

The next time you start a New Project, the template will appear on your list of template choices. Be sure to spend some time playing around in the template.  Expand all of the folders to see the built in options I’ve created (scenes, character sheets, plot point cards, writing tips, etc.)

Hopefully Scrivener will bring you as much joy and organization as it has for me.  Happy writing!

*Some images in this post are from the Literature and Latte website to illustrate the features of Scrivener.

The Most Important Question a Writer Can Ask

I’m an introvert.  I think that many writers are.  I sit back and watch the world, process what’s happening around me and spit it back out through the written word.  I write much better than I speak.  Cocktail parties are my nightmare because I don’t do small talk well.  But even my best friends will disagree with that statement.  The reason?  Although I’m naturally shy, I can carry on a conversation with a wall.  How? I’m an excellent questioner.

My motto has always been, “Live Curious.”  This motto manifests itself in my constant need to learn far-fetched facts about our world.  It also surfaces in my constant need to know more about people.  I’ve always been a natural interviewer. I just have a knack for getting people to talk… sometimes about things they don’t even want to talk about.

After years of “interviewing” people in order to learn more about them and deflect attention away from having to talk about myself, I finally got my big break.  I was offered the opportunity to start writing newspaper and magazine articles professionally.  No problem.  I’m a natural interviewer. Right? WRONG!  My first story was about a German Shepherd named Hercules who was discovered locked in a basement closet of an abandoned house.  I was scheduled to talk to the realtor who discovered Hercules and the veterinary assistant who cared for him in the first twelve hours after his rescue.  I was also assigned four other interviews to round out the story – local law enforcement, the veterinarian who ran the clinic, the lawyer who prosecuted the individual who abandoned the dog and Hercules’ new owner – the woman who adopted him after his intense rehabilitation.

I jumped in with both feet and spent no less than twelve hours on the phone with my six sources.  As is my natural tendency, I asked A LOT of questions – too many questions.  When it was over I found myself with pages of notes and the impossible task of organizing the information into a 1,000-word article.  The editor loved the final article, but my sources were less than thrilled that I’d spent two hours on the phone with each of them and their contributions boiled down to few lines each in the story.

After years of interviews and articles, I’ve learned that it is imperative to guide an interview so that the source’s time invested is equal to the coverage on the page.  This takes practice.  People love to talk about themselves, and too many open ended questions will leave you with cramped fingers.  Three hours later, you’ll still be  typing frantically in a desperate attempt to keep up with this source’s life story.  My advice is this:

  1. Do your research: Knowing your article topic inside and out will allow you to pose carefully crafted questions.  Flailing about with generality-filled questions won’t get you to the heart of your article’s topic.
  2. Plan your questions:  See above.  Approach every interview with a plan.  What do you need to know from this person and what is the most efficient way to glean that information?
  3. Guide the conversation: People love to talk about themselves.  Be two steps ahead of your interviewee. As they are pontificating about the joys of offshore gambling boats, be prepared with the next question which can guide them back to the topic – the cruise ships’ effects on coral colonies in the area.
  4. Keep your ears open for other storylines: Just because you need to keep your interviewee focused doesn’t mean you can’t be open to tangential story ideas.  My ears perk up when Bob starts talking about the mafia contingent woven through the underbelly of the offshore gambling boat industry.  But my editor expects me to write about the dying coral colonies.  I quickly tell Bob that I would love to table this discussion and ask if he would be open to discussing it at another time.  If his answer is yes, I refocus him on the plight of Caribbean coral polyps and finish the interview.  As soon as I hang up, I save my aquatic sealife interview, do my research, write my next article proposal “Al Capone Isn’t Dead! Just Hiding in the Bowels of an Offshore Gambling Boat,” and schedule a second interview with Bob.
  5. Ask the ever important Last Question: The final question I ask in every interview is “Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that I need to know?”  I know I just scolded you for open-ended questions, but this particular open-ended gem is magical. Often sources will sit quietly for a beat and then launch into the perfectly crafted conclusion to my article.  The source’s brain will subconsciously summarize the “heart of the matter” and spit it back out back out in a well-crafted sound bite.  If I worked in radio, the interviewee’s answer to the Last Question would be the final quotation that puts a shiny red bow around the end of my story.  However, be forewarned.  You, as the writer, still need to do the work because sometimes… there’s no shiny bow.  Upon hearing the Last Question, Bob might launch right back into his story about a stellar round of Texas Hold ‘Em on seas with 16-foot waves.  If that’s the case see Step 3, and think twice about that Al Capone story.  Maybe another three hours on the phone with Bob just isn’t worth it!

Happy questioning and writing!

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