Week twelve: Look for the blank walls

It is week twelve of 2019. Spring has sprung, and the brain-wrecking jostle of the time jump in the US is behind us. How is the writing going? This new season is a good time to evaluate your writing routine and make changes if you are stuck or the words feel stale. If you’ve been writing inside, get yourself outside. If you’ve been writing on a computer, grab a notebook and pen. If you’ve been writing in the mornings, try writing at night. Run an experiment for a week and see what happens.

This week’s book, The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell, is all about change – big change. If you’ve never substantially revised one of your drafts, or if you live in fear of being told (by an editor, a reader, or your own brain) that your manuscript needs substantial revision, this is the book to reach for.

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Week eleven: Burnishing the words

It is week eleven of 2019. It has been a wrenching week in the world, and that can sometimes stop your words. Let yourself be silent or send your words elsewhere for a time, but then guide them gently back to your book. Books are solace, and we will need yours in the world someday.

Some of my happiest hours this week have been spent with the words of Benjamin Dreyer, the Random House copy chief, who has distilled his decades of experience in Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. As you can sense from the title, Dreyer wears his wisdom lightly. He is quick to admit to his own crotchets and idiosyncrasies, and his advice is delivered with disarming humor.

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Week ten: Burning through the fog

It is week ten of 2019. Of all of the fifty-two weeks of the year, week ten might be my least favorite, followed closely by week nine and week eleven. My internal weather is always stormy in March. Here in San Francisco, it’s been rainy and gray for weeks, and when the sun does make a brief appearance, it feels too sharp and bright. 

Maybe it is the same for you? I hope not. I hope that you are sailing through calm seas under gentle blue skies and that the words are piling up in your document or notebook. But if not, I’ve got two tonics to offer you today, for this or whatever season you need them.

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Week nine: Filling up the well

It is week nine of 2019. It’s that tricky period when the shine of the new year has worn off and the calamitous Ides of March is looming. Whenever possible, I try to change my longitude or latitude at this time of year to shake up my routine and refill my creative well.

This year’s trip – a meander through London and Edinburgh – was especially wonderful because inspiration for writers and readers is thick on the ground. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries.

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Week eight: Let's talk about our word problem

It is week eight of 2019. How was your week in writing? Were the words stubborn or shy, or did they come skipping right out of your brain and onto the page?

Writers have a lot of problems with words – coaxing them out, controlling their erratic behavior, choosing which ones to axe and which ones to spare. But for novelists, I think the biggest problem may be that there are so very many of them. Masses of words. Giant heaping piles of words. 

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Week seven: Of taxonomies and tools

It is week seven of 2019. How are the words treating you this week? Tenderly, I hope, in honor of Valentine’s Day. If not, kick ’em to the curb and throw their cheap, stale drugstore chocolates after them. Maybe learn some new words? In a different language even? Here are a few Italian words I prize: eccoci qua (here we are), allora (well, then), and piano, piano (slowly, slowly). You can throw these in most anywhere.

Now, let’s get down to the Serious Business of Story. One glance at The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know will show you that Shawn Coyne takes Story very seriously indeed, or at least that's the implication of his capitalization style. But you’ll have to get over the capitalization because I think this book is worth your attention if you are a novelist.

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Week six: Give yourself permission

It is week six of 2019. How is the writing going for you? Here at the garret, I wrote myself out of that tangle I was in last week. It was just a simple little job description, and I had expected it to take maybe an hour. But an evil little demon called imposter syndrome snuck in and started whispering,Who do you think you are, acting like a boss? And that’s all it took to stop the words – or to stop them from sounding like mine.

Reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic this week helped me shake off that demon by reminding me that I can and do give myself permission to be a business owner – and a boss.

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Week five: Watch the bird, not its shadow

It is week five of 2019. How is the writing going for you this week? Here at the garret, I’ve just shelved a piece of business-related writing I had been trying to check off my to-do list because I could not find a voice for it that felt both professional and authentic. I’m going to let it sulk in its Google folder for a few days while I turn to this newsletter, where I’m beginning to feel at home. 

If you were an English major, you may have encountered E.M. Forster’sAspects of the Novel in college. Perhaps, like me, you read the “People (continued)” chapter, ruthlessly severed from its antecedent and bound into a photocopied course reader, and learned Forster’s distinction between “flat” and “round” characters.

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Week four: Wired for pantsing

It is week four of 2019. How’s the writing going? Here at the Blue Garret, I’ve settled into the pleasant routine of writing these newsletters each week, and I’m beginning to contemplate what’s next. I think I’m just about ready to open up the drafts of my two barely begun novels and see what’s what.

This week’s craft book, Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story, made that moment feel just a little bit more daunting because Cron is a firm believer in advance plotting and… y’all, I’m a pantser. This may surprise those of you who know my deep love for planning in general and spreadsheets in particular (I’ve got a very nice one going already for this summer’s epic road trip). But when it comes to writing, I generally show up to the page with a direction and a few ideas about stops along the way and then feel my way forward bit by bit. 

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Week three: Put your desk in the corner

It is week three of 2019. Have you settled back into a comfortable writing routine? Or are you still on pause, waiting for a reason to begin? Perhaps your story just hasn’t found you yet. As Stephen King points out in On Writing, you can’t just go out and dig one up:

“There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

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Week one: Have a plan. Hold it lightly.

It’s week one of 2019. Here at the Blue Garret, it’s a windy, wintry day. The seagulls have come inland from the ocean to wheel around the park I can see from the kitchen window, which means we’re in for a gorgeous gusty rainstorm. 

I love the start of a new year and the feeling of embarking on new plans and projects. While I enjoy setting and tracking goals (Virgo, hello), this year I’m trying to keep a piece of advice from Frank Ostaseski, the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project, front and center: Have a plan. Hold it lightly.

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