Telling Your Story All the Way Through

Friday, December 2, 2011

“Two or three things I know for sure and one of them is that telling the story all the way through is an act of love.” Dorothy Allison in Two or Three Things I Know for Sure

As a writer, sometimes inspiration can be hard to come by. I don’t mean the kind of inspiration that fuels stories, but the kind of inspiration that makes us want to be better writers, the kind that tells us deep in our souls that we can be better writers.

The week before Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Lee Smith. Her speech, which was both eloquent and down to earth, left no doubt in my mind what a strong voice she is for women and for Southerners. Afterward, I had the extreme pleasure of being introduced to her by my writing mentor, another strong woman whom I view as having capable hands and a compassionate heart when it comes to guiding writers.

During that conversation, Ms. Smith told me how her son, who is the same age that I am, was graduating with an MFA in writing the following day, saying to me that it wasn’t too late to start. After listening to the rhythmic power of her prose on stage and her kind words in person, I left that meeting feeling inspired. 

This Wednesday, I had the rare opportunity to take a writing workshop with Dorothy Allison. I don’t know what I expected, but whatever it was, that idea hit the road running as soon as she spoke. (And although I took Sofia to a workshop with Karen Salyer McElmurray last year, Allison’s workshop was not PG-rated.)

Allison’s over-arching message was that we are living in the Golden Age of Literature. As writers, very few will make enough money to survive financially, but that in itself may be the greatest gift of all, the gift that will allow us to access what she called “the gold,” the currency that each of us as writers possess. According to her, the lack of financial incentive for writers means freedom to write what you want, to make a difference, to tell the hard stories.

During the workshop, she gave us a list of her rules for being great writers, the first of which was to Read Out loud. She went on to say that you have to read your work for someone who scares you, someone you respect, someone you know will give you honest feedback. And so, being a woman of her word, she assigned us five-minute writing prompts and then made each of us read out loud. Scary indeed. But oh so powerful.

In her feedback, she made it clear that each of us has something important to offer as writers, and that we shouldn’t fight who we are to write what we think others will want to read or to write what is safe. I left that meeting feeling empowered.

As writers, this kind of confidence the kind that comes from inspiration and empowerment can be hard to find within our selves. Sometimes, we need a little nudge, or in Dorothy Allison’s case, a big thwak, to show us the way. So, I encourage you, especially you mothers and daughters, to find inspiration and empowerment, to find mentors despite the fear we all face that will enable you to tell your stories all the way through.

Tell me about your mentors in the comments below. (And my apologies to both Ms. Smith and Ms. Allison for the quality of the pictures.)

NaNoWriMo Day 17: Stress Relief: Advice From a Teenager, from Sofia (13)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Let’s pretend taking advice from a thirteen-year-old is a good idea.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

At least, that’s what I tell myself. But no matter how many witty sayings and clever puns I force into my mind, a few questions keep popping up. Like, for example, where do the tough go that makes them so tough? How do they get there? Can I go?

I may not be the toughest of people, but I don’t consider myself spineless, either. So, to aid in my toughness, I have drafted up a list of ways to get through even the harshest of times. You guys ready? Here goes!

·       MUSIC. This is the key to surviving anything! Horrid breakup? Listen to music. Lost library book? Listen to music. Zombie apocalypse? You guessed it—listen to music!
·       DISTRACTIONS. If you’re one of those people with an intense, uber-mega-focused mind, this may not come as naturally, but it works—trust me! Read a book, do a sudoku, call up a friend, just do something besides whatever you’re stressed about. This will only relieve stress if you can completely forget about the source of the pressure.
·       EXERCISE. Exercise releases endorphins—a feel-good chemical—in your brain. Endorphins cause us to feel less pain and stress, and can be released by eating certain foods, like chocolate and chili peppers. However, it’s generally agreed that exercise is healthier than chocolate.

Okay, that’s all the tips I have for today. Waitaminute—if you’re really stressed, why are you hanging around reading blog posts about relieving stress? Go! Listen to music, exercise, and get distracted!

Oh, by the way, the whole NaNoWriMo thing? It’s going great! I was behind for a few days because I didn’t write on the weekend, but today I finally caught up to my planned word count. Score one for Sofia! Whoo-hoo!

NaNoWriMo Day 14: A Teen's Perspective, from Sofia (13)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hey, I’m Sofia, and I just want to say that NaNoWriMo is really helping my typing skills. In fact, I’m almost one hundred percent positive that by the end of November, I will have calluses on my fingers from typing. Admittedly, this may not be a great thing, but it’s certainly a sign of dedication, right?

After all, writing a novel in a month takes persistence. It’s not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for those without a large supply of caffeinated beverages and a late bedtime.

My daily word count isn’t very high—my mom has already written more on her novel than my word goal for the month—but since I have to balance writing on top of fifty-plus hours a week of high school, college classes, and extracurricular activities, 17,000 words is fine. And I’m already on page fifteen! (Insert girly adolescent squeal of pure, unadulterated joy here.)

The novel I’m writing, Sandra, is about a girl (named Sandra) who lives in an orphanage in Plymouth, England in 1906. When the novel starts, an elderly lady named Cornelia Doubtford adopts Sandra and takes her to live in Longburton, Dorset, England, where Madame Doubtford reveals that she is a witch—and that Sandra herself is in possession of magical powers. Sandra begins developing her powers, but as she does so, she begins to suspect something is amiss. Finally she discovers why a part of her mind had been warning her that something was wrong, and a drastic encounter forces her to choose between two paths: a life of luxury or a life of uncertainty. Which will our heroine choose? You’ll just have to read the book to find that out.

. . . Of course, I’m going to have to write the book before you can do that. . . .

NaNoWriMo Week Two: Harry Potter to the Rescue

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNo Week Two is in full swing and although each year during Week One I think I won’t fall victim to the writerly slump Chris Baty, in No Plot? No Problem! calls “a black howler of a tempest,” each year, I’m wrong.

I won’t go into all of the reasons I think that Week Two is harder, but I will say that it’s where I start to struggle with deepening my work-in-progress, where the characters fumble around in feeble attempts to get to know one another and where the muse that dropped the unexpected plot bombs in my story takes off without any hints as to how to put out the resultant fires.

This is when I most need support—which I like to find in the form of those who have walked the walk, successfully, before me. Searching for solutions to my own writing inadequacies, I stumbled upon this plot outline from J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter series fame. This is from her fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, and illustrates her method for keeping up with all of the plots and subplots her book entails. Literary Rambles has a detailed post, where Rowling’s musings are discussed in depth if you’re interested in a little inspirational research.

Click here for larger pic: Order of the Phoenix, originally published on

Findings like these are the small things that help me when I’m losing my motivation during large writing projects such as NaNoWriMo. For now, I’m sticking with it, because foolish or not, I believe Chris when he says, “(B)efore you know it, Week Two will be a distant memory. The sun will be shining again, the way will be clear, and the writing will be fun once more.”

How do you get through Week Two? Let me know in the comments below. And I’ll see you on the other side!

NaNoWriMo Day 5: Another Day Another Convert

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Although I’ve yet to get any writing done today, I did log 11,414 words for the first four days of NaNo. Weekends, with their checklist of family activities, are my least productive writing days since I need relative quiet and few interruptions to keep enough brain cells together to write a coherent sentence. However, that hasn’t stopped me from talking about NaNoand trying to recruit participantswherever I go. 

At today’s cross country meet I swayed one tween to think about it, and somehow convinced my younger daughter, who’s six, to participate in the Young Writers Program. That may not sound like a coup to you, but it’s easier to find a job in this economy than it is to persuade my daughter to do anything that’s not her idea. Right now, as we speak, she’s working toward her official goal of 300 words. And with one of the few successful tools of my parent’s arsenal, I told her that if she wrote 1,000 words before November 30, I would take her to play at the new indoor bouncy gym. A mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do.

While signing her up for the Young Writers Program, I learned something new, which was that kids can write their novels by handthen use a random text generator to verify their “win” at the end of the month. This is a great option for young kids who don’t know how to type or for anyone who doesn’t have daily access to a computer.

Speaking of fully stocked arsenals, the Young Writer’s Program provides comprehensive resources for kids, parents, and teachers, some of the best of which are their workbooks. You can purchase or print out for free, separate workbooks for elementary, middle, or high school writers. As a former homeschooler, the extensiveness of the YWP resources were not lost on me. I’m printing one out, again as we speak. A note of warning though, these are no measly pamphlets. The elementary level workbook is 126 pages, made much more manageable by setting your printer to two pages per sheet and duplexing.

If you have signed your budding writers up for the YWP, I’d love for you to drop me a comment and let me know how it’s going. And if your school is participating, I’m especially interested to hear how that’s working out.

Happy Writing.

How it All Began: Writing Camp

Friday, November 4, 2011
In 2008, wanting to encourage my then nine-year-old to pursue her dreams of being a writer, I began what we called the Mother-Daughter Writing Camp. Although I had wanted to be a writer when I grew up, as a kid from limited resources, I had never met any authors. I did not want that to be the case for my daughter. So, together, we developed our writing camp, which consisted mostly of us reading works by specific authors, then meeting and interviewing them.

Since then, we've met and interviewed authors from many genres, from magazine writers to screenwriters. (One of our favorite interviews was with my dear friend, Jeffrey Reddick who created the Final Destination franchise, and I hope one day soon we'll get that interview posted.)

It's been a great experience for us, both humbling and inspiring. My daughter is now 13, in the 9th grade, and is creating a path for herself, strewn with writing award after writing award. I hope that what we share here in this blog will inspire you and your daughters to dream big, and to write every day.

In the era of over-burdened schedules and text messaging, I am thankful that despite the communication challenges that arise between teens and their parents, talking about writing is indeed a bonding experience.

NaNovember Day 1

Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Today is the official start of NaNoWriMo. If you've never heard of it, you're definitely missing out on one of the most challenging -- yet rewarding -- writing experiences ever. Last year was my first year participating and this year is Sofia's. I'll have her give you an update soon since she's still not home from her Academic Team meet, but my quick update is 2675 for today. I'm trying to bank some words to tide me over the weekend when I won't be able to write.

If you're with us on this adventure, I hope your first day is a productive one. After "winning" last year, I'll tell you that not every day is, but every word counts. So. Go. Write. Some. Words. And if you don't have it, I recommend Chris Baty's book, No Plot? No Problem! It always inspires me.