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Writing Advice from Joss Whedon

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 23•14

Joss WeedenJoss Whedon

I wasn’t sure how to start this, so I did anyway. I’ve faced plenty of writer’s block in my time, though maybe less than some. I’ll lay out whatever rules for dealing with it that come to me. I think I’ve already laid out the first.

Control your environment. No one comes or goes. You’re alone, with enough time not only to write but to fall into the place of writing, which can take a while. No internet, no phone. Play music. It can amp the mood and separate you from the people on the other side of the door. (I listen to movie scores when I write. Nothing with lyrics—too distracting. Modern movie scores are very drone-y, in a good way for writers. Just sustained emotion. Hans Zimmer, Rachel Portman, Carter Burwell, Mychael Danna…there’s tons.) Make sure your desk faces the right way. (I have to face the room, not the wall.) Not too much clutter…it all matters.

Start writing. You can overthink anything. You can wind yourself up into a frenzy of inertia by letting a blank page stay blank. Write something on it. (Don’t draw something on it. The moment I doodle on a page I know nothing else will ever go on it. The blank page is scary, but it’s also sacred. Don’t mar it.) Anything can be rewritten—except nothing.

Be specific. You want to write something. Why? What exactly are you going for? Whether you’re at the beginning or the middle or the last damn sentence of something, you need to know exactly what you’re after. Verisimilitude? Laughter? Pain? Something that rhymes with orange? Whatever it is, be very cold about being able to break it down, so even if you walk away, you walk away with a goal.

Stop writing. Know when to walk away, when you’re grinding gears. This is tricky, because it’s easy to get lazy, but sometimes straining for inspiration when it’s not there is just going to tire you out and make the next session equally unproductive. I believe that Stephen King once likened it to kissing a corpse. But then, he would. Walk away, relax, and best of all…

Watch something. Watch, read, listen—it fills the creative tanks, reminds us why we wanted to write in the first place, and often, it’ll unlock the thing that’s missing. That doesn’t mean you’ll see something and subconsciously steal from it (though it doesn’t 100% NOT mean that), it just taps into the creative place a blocked writer can’t access. Very often I’ll see a movie that’ll completely inform what I’m writing, which will bear no resemblance of any kind to that movie. I’ll just know how I want to feel when I’m writing it. (Episode 10 of season three of Buffy: totes indebted to The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Have a deadline. I would probably never get anything written if it weren’t shooting next week. I’m a terrible procrastinator, which means the adrenaline of last-minute panic is my friend. (It’s all that kept me afloat in school, I’m sad to say. My attention has a disorderly deficit. There was no acronym for that when I was little.) But you can create deadlines of your own. Friends are good for this. Make yourself mutually accountable—you have to deliver such-and-many words by this-or-then time, as do they. You might not always (or ever) hold to these, but they can help you remember that your writing may matter to someone besides yourself.

Have rewards. I’m talking about cookies. Actually, I’m finishing with cookies. What matters more? Earn them, then enjoy them.

OK then. Good luck!

No, wait. Good writing! No—happy writing.

Ack. No! Um…and thus I have argued that the main causes of…blech.

This is Joss, signing…what? No.

Bon appetite! Rosebud! Nobody’s perfect! To infinity, and…I give up. I’m never gonna find the right ending.

I’m gettin’ a cookie.

excerpted from http://www.rookiemag.com/2012/11/get-unstuck/

Quick take: Conflict = Test

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 18•14

despairWhile conflict is the basis for fiction, a plot builds by adding on complications, surprises, and developments that add more tension and forward motion. Plots are not drawn as a straight line; instead there are zigzags, dead ends, sidetracks and crooked paths. Each of these elements adds more obstacles, more decisions to be made, paths to be chosen. At each turn, chaos, disorder, arguments, struggles, bewilderment, dilemmas should result.

To keep a story simmering, remember this: All types of conflict in a story must be some sort of test. Force a character to make tough choices that he or she would rather ignore. Make the choices and problems linked to his or her emotional core. Give the character dilemmas that clash with his beliefs and values.

 

From Idea to Story workshop on May 3

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 16•14

In case you missed it, I have a fabulous, practical, get-it-done workshop coming up. We’re going to brainstorm, problem solve a lot. Hate to use buzz words, but the truth is, authors who attended this workshop have gone on to publish their books.

And it’s in Manzanita, Oregon. If you’ve never spent time in lovely Manzanita, you owe yourself a trip. It’s about 2 hours  from Portland, 15 miles south of Cannon Beach on 101. Charming village with air you want to bottle. I always feel calm and creative there. In fact, have edited and written large chunks of 5 of my books there…in a cabin overlooking the endlessly-changing Pacific. I purposely schedule workshops and retreats in inspiring locales….but you probably already guessed that.

Here’s a photo of Manzanita at sunset. I have seen some of the loveliest sunsets of my lifetime in Manzanita…just thinking about them makes me feel blissful and goosebumpy. Not kidding.

manzanita_beach_oregon

Here are details about the workshop. Please contact me soon…..

From Idea to Story

May 3, 9-4:30

The Center for Contemplative Arts, Manzanita, Oregon

Writers have long grappled with the problem of taking a flash of inspiration through the marathon process of completing a finished work. That flash is your premise. But a premise on its own is flimsy, must be build it up and needs the perfect story people to bring it to life until it becomes a compelling, awe-inspiring tale of… whatever it is you long to tell.

This workshop, for writers of all levels, will address key issues that must be confronted if you are going to assemble a myriad of pieces into a seamless whole. These issues include finding a shape for your story; how to treat plot and character as interdependent; how to avoid typical pitfalls when working. We’ll discuss forces and fears at play such as the fear or inability to finish, which is all too common. We’ll cover the basics of plotting, or if you’re writing a memoir, choosing the right elements and order for it. Participants can bring a brief outline of their plot and first three paragraphs.

We’ll also cover:

  • Determining if your premise is a true compass that will keep the story on track.
  • The basic underpinnings of stories—the anatomy of scenes and the anchor scenes that hold it together.
  • How believable, important stakes power the story.
  • Strategies for handling pacing anxiety and the urge to pad instead of plot.
  • Perfectionism, mistakes, and daring to make them.
  • Making tough choices about what to leave in and what to leave out.
  • How stories and endings are based on the protagonist’s deepest needs and fears.
  • How stories contain meaningful themes and are metaphors for life.

 To register: The cost is $80. Payment is required to register. Mail a check to Jessica Morrell, P.O. Box 820141, Portland, OR 97282-1141. PayPal also accepted. 

Now Write!

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 14•14

NowWriteSFF+HorrorFront-683x1024I’m in fabulous company in a new anthology: Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.

The fifth volume in the acclaimed Now Write! series of writing guides offers a full toolkit for beginning and experienced speculative genre writers seeking to generate unusual ideas, craft an engaging alternate reality, flesh out enthralling villains, aliens and monsters, or develop a blood-curdling twist ending.  Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror features lively and practical insight and exercises, straight from the top speculative genre writers working today, including:

- Harlan Ellison® on crafting the perfect story title

- Jack Ketchum on how economy of language helps create a truly frightening tale

- Piers Anthony on making fantastical characters feel genuine and relatable

- Ramsey Campbell on pushing your writing style in new directions

- Aimee Bender on combining unexpected imagery to stir up your imagination

This collection of storytelling secrets from top genre writers—among them winners of Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Bram Stoker awards—is essential for any writer looking to take a leap beyond the ordinary.

My article is The Villains Handbook. You can find out more about the book and series here.

telling stories….

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 09•14

We tell stories for so many reasons; to entertain, to be understood, to explain, to engage, to re-visit the past, to imagine the future. Every child ever born anywhere in the world at any time loves to hear a story. It may be that storytelling is the best thing we can do for our mental health. ~ Jeanette Winterson

April is National Poetry Month

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 08•14

We also recognize that imagination has to struggle with the dragon of time afresh each day. Poetry must be written, continued, risked, tried, revised, erased, and tried again as long as we breathe and love, doubt and believe.” ~ Adam Zagajewski

From Idea to Story workshop in Manzanita on May 3

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 02•14

exotic skyscapeFrom Idea to Story

May 3, 9-4:30

The Center for Contemplative Arts, Manzanita, Oregon

Taught by Jessica Morrell

Writers have long grappled with the problem of taking a flash of inspiration through the marathon process of completing a finished work. That flash is your premise. But a premise on its own is flimsy, must be build it up and need the perfect story people to bring it to life until it becomes a compelling, awe-inspiring tale of… whatever it is you long to tell.

This workshop, for writers of all levels, will address key issues that must be confronted if you are going to assemble a myriad of pieces into a seamless whole. These issues include finding a shape for your story; how to treat plot and character as interdependent; how to avoid typical pitfalls when working. We’ll discuss forces and fears at play such as the fear or inability to finish, which is all too common. We’ll cover the basics of plotting, or if you’re writing a memoir, choosing the right elements and order for it. Participants can bring a brief outline of their plot and first three paragraphs.

typewriterA006   We’ll also cover:

  •    Determining if your premise is a true compass that will keep the story on track.
  •    The basic underpinnings of stories—the anatomy of scenes and the anchor scenes that hold it together.
  •   How believable, important stakes power the story.
  • Strategies for handling pacing anxiety and the urge to pad instead of plot.
  •  Perfectionism, mistakes, and daring to make them.
  •  Making tough choices about what to leave in and what to leave out.
  •  How stories and endings are based on the protagonist’s deepest needs and fears.
  •  How stories contain meaningful themes and are metaphors for life.

 Jessica Morrell knows writing from both sides of the desk as a developmental editor and author of Writing Out the Storm; Between the Lines, Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing; Voices From the Street; The Writer’s I Ching ; Bullies, Bastards & Bitches, How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction and Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected and the upcoming No Ordinary Days: The Seasons, Cycles and Elements of Writing. She also contributes to anthologies and The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines.  Jessica has taught writers since 1991 and coordinates three writing conferences. You’ll learn more than you thought possible in her workshop.

To register: The cost is $80. Payment is required to register. Mail a check to Jessica Morrell, P.O. Box 820141, Portland, OR 97282-1141. PayPal also accepted.

Bitter truth: Haste leads to rejection

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 01•14

Bitter Brew          I sometimes hear from writers who have written a manuscript, then immediately contacted an agent or editor with plans for  getting published.  They believe they’re (whoopee!) on their way to publication. Problem is, the manuscript is nowhere near ready for the bright lights of a publishing house. Too many writers fall into the common trap of writing fiction without an adequate understanding of its structure and underpinnings. Without this understanding you end up with a lot of words but not a rollicking story.

It pains me to say this, but if you’re seeking representation with hopes of a publishing contract, first complete the rewrites and make certain that every part of the story reveals a deep  level of craft. Make certain that the story first goes out to beta readers and that it has been copy edited.

I’m not trying to dissuade you, but to encourage you to create a polished product. And this goes double for people who are slapping together “stories” and self publishing them. You’re clogging up the marketplace where thousands of writers are toiling away trying to create their  best works.

Spend time analyzing how published authors create action scenes and emulate them. EVERY scene you should ask yourself:  1- Is the character doing something interesting? 2- Is the action moving the story forward? And 3- Does the change in the scene matter?

Here’s a quick structure cheat sheet:

 The dramatic question is:_________________________________

 Main story line is:_______________________________________

 Protagonist:

 Antagonist:

 Important Secondary Characters:

 Subplot A

 Subplot B

 Subplot C

 Subplot D

 Most crucial back story scenes/elements:

 1.

 2.

 3.

 4.

 5.

 

April

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 01•14

April blooming trees

Today is the last day for discounted hotel room

Written By: jessicap - Mar• 28•14

Just a reminder for out-of-towners attending the Claim Your Story Writing Conference  on April 12th in Ashland, Oregon : Friday, March 28 is the last day to receive a discounted hotel stay at the lovely Lithia Springs Resort.

Details for this conference are here.

Registration, however, is still open. Stay tuned for more updates from our teaching staff.

I cannot say enough about the Lithia Springs Hotel. Charming grounds and rooms, mineral water piped in, blooms everywhere….a little bit of heaven nestled near the foothills of Ashland.