A Cup

Can You Hear Me Shouting From the Rooftops?

I’ve said it before. I’m sure I’ll say it again. writer's block

Shitty First Drafts, People. Anne Lamont’s shining advice to writers in her book, BIRD BY BIRD, is to allow yourself to write a shitty first draft.

I told you about the new WIP. I told you it flies as I write. (Last week, I wrote as much as I did in the previous month!)

I guarantee it’s terrible. But it’s funny, too. (For real. Lisa laughed out loud when she read it!)

My new method looks something like dinner with a toddler, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Every ludicrous thought, ridiculous comment, or hysterical character that crosses my mind will show up somewhere in those thousands of words. At times when things just need to happen and funny gets lost- no problem, a joke will come to me later.

There’s something about writing intentionally funny material that has freed my mind from the fear of failure. It’s a beautiful place, my friends!

A Cup

Finding Mojo

Today I experienced TRUE MOJO! It exists. Really, it does.

I’ve spent over a year pounding away at a serious manuscript that I enjoyed but felt WAY too much pressure to get right. Seriously, A YEAR. And I’m nowhere close to done.

Many factors play into the molasses of my WIP. Largely, my real life interfered on my time and on my mental abilities. Writing a story that requires more intricate language and a series of connecting points, not mention dealing with prejudice, death, and cultural differences, just wasn’t going to happen in two three-hour sessions of half-functioning brain a week. Not to mention the school-less summer hours with both kids at home in my near future.

What changed that brought me so much MOJO? Not my time. Not my life.

My story.

When I was finally honest with myself about my situation right now, I could get smart about how to use what I have available.

I love the complicated WIP, I really do, but I can’t give it what it needs right now.

There’s another story that’s been floating around my mind that’s light, fun, and easily told. The characters speak to me again and I spend free time dreaming up ludicrous situations for it. This is the story I should be telling at this point in my life.

Finally starting today, I found the joy I'd forgotten in writing. In essence, I found my MOJO!

Is your Real Life messing with you Writing Life? Are you in denial? What can you do to make it work?

Lisa Coffee

Keeping Perspective

Boston as seen from the 26th floor of Student Village II at Boston University by Henry Wan

Today was a sad day in Boston.  Like me, I'm sure you spent a good part of the day watching the tragic events unfold at the marathon finish.  Days like this put things in perspective for me.  They  make me think in cliches:

  • Life is short;

  • Live each moment like its your last;

  • Every day is a precious gift--live it to the fullest;

The things I've spent time worrying about ("Will I ever finish this draft?" "Is anyone ever going to publish my work?") seem silly in comparison to the real hurt and fear people faced today.

Instead, I'm glad to be alive and with the ones I love.  I hope, dear friends, that you've also gotten some perspective.

And for those touched by tragedy, my thoughts are with you.
Lisa Coffee

Writing Novels: Keep it Simple

Albert Einstein said the following:

"If you can't explain something simply,
you don't understand it well."

He was talking about scientific principles, but this advice translates well to novels.  A story with a singular theme or purpose is sometimes all you need.  If books include too many characters or side plots or detours, the story's power gets diluted.

I've got a huge file of potential story ideas just waiting for me to write them.  Some ideas are just a fragment--a character or a situation that seems interesting.  Others come to me with ready-written log lines like (if I was Stephanie Meyer): "New girl falls hopelessly in love with beautiful boy who is really a vampire."

I have to believe that the fully-formed log lines would probably be easiest to write.  They have a plot built in to them.  Certainly you could pitch such a story to an agent/editor with ease.

I get most frustrated with my writing when I've lost direction.  I'm not sure what emotion a character should be feeling or how a scene should unfold.  During those times, I don't think I can explain simply what my story is all about.

That's when it would help to have that log-line to keep me on track.  Stay focused.

Happy writing, all.
Lisa Coffee

Writing Books that Matter

On today's episode of "Lisa's Journey to Read Every Free YA Ebook," I report on two very different stories. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a gutting, inspired-by-true-events saga of a girl taken from Lithuania to Siberian work camps.  Think "Diary of Anne Frank" set in the snow and winter dark.  It's beautifully written and plotted.  I finished reading it, and I felt like I'd eaten my spinach.  This was a book worth reading and therefore worth writing.

On the other hand, I read Melissa Kantor's The Breakup Bible.  With witty prose by a post-breakup narrator, it's just a fun read. Think a smarter Bridget Jones in high school.  Honestly, I probably enjoyed reading it more than Between Shades of Gray. Sure, it touched on some important themes like love and racial identity, but I appreciated a bit of escapism and a happy ending.  This book was like a fluffy pink cupcake--fun, light, and oh-so-tasty.

I thought it fitting that I read these books close to one another, as they symbolize an inner debate I've had for a while.  What kind of book should I write?  A serious, issue-driven book with a message people need to hear (Between Shades of Gray), or a book that is lighter on message and bigger on fun (Breakup Bible).  What kind of a book is worth writing?

Both.

When I began writing, I thought I needed to craft a Sepetys-style epic to really matter as a writer.  I wrote that kind of book, and I do love it.  But I don't know whether it's big enough or good enough to venture even close to Between Shades of Gray territory.  I wonder if I'll sound melodramatic and cheesy to my readers.

My second book, on the other hand, hints at bigger themes of true love and family, but I mostly just have fun writing it.  It's silly and probably sometimes slapstick, but I definitely escape to a happy place when I write it.  Nobody will consider me a Serious Author if I ever get this published.  But I think Andrea and Nikki like this one better than the first because of its fun factor.

I have to believe that readers value both spinach and a pink cupcake.  Sometimes you're in the mood for a big read; other times, it's overwhelming to add the woes of the world to your own.

What do you think?  What kind of book is worth writing/reading?

Incidental Inspiration: Week 5

Another week of inspiration. I know, I've been slacking. I'll admit to being in the trenches of yet another revision and being overrun with kids' activities. But enough with the excuses!!


james purefoy



Television:


I've spent the past two weeks catching up on the television show The Following. My husband and I have pretty much been watching an episode each evening. It's addictive, it's well-acted, and it's very well-written.  My inspiration?  The character played by James Purefoy. He is evil, but layered and nuanced and so charismatic you can't help but want to join his cult. That's the depth I want to give my antagonist (who is also an older, good-looking, coercive man)!

Being Busy:


In being so incredibly busy - I have a new respect for fast pacing in novels. If I'm going to sit down and read, I don't want extra words or scenes or emotions or backstory or anything that leaves me feeling that I've wasted my time. So in my revisions I'm trying to do the same thing ... I'm putting myself in a reader's shoes and debating cutting a scene or two that I love - but that may not be completely necessary.

Image Source: FX
Lisa Coffee

Avoid Dating Your Manuscript


I just read a book (which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent) that didn't age well.  Trust me--this is not a manuscript you'd want to date in the "let's go out for dinner and a movie" sense.  But that's not the way I mean "date" here.

I mean that you book won't have a shelf life if you pepper your manuscript with pop culture references.  These things might engage the readers of today.  But today's four year olds probably won't remember the Harlem Shake or Gangnam Style ten years from now when they're old enough to read our stuff.

But how can you write about contemporary teens without describing life as we know it?  Here are some ideas:

  • Describe the kind of music and message of the song rather than a specific band or title.

  • Give enough detail about the popular movie that anyone gets the reference--not just people who've seen it.

  • Allow your characters to use their own unique set of expressions.  For example, John Green's An Abundance of Katherines uses the invented term "fug."

  • Give your characters interests outside of typical pop culture things teens like.  Sure, it might be more realistic to write about kids who love the top ten hits, movies, internet memes.  But it's way more interesting to hear about the shot-put expert or the kid who won a knot-tying competition.

Do you have any other ideas for how your manuscript can withstand the test of time?
A Cup

You're Fabulous!

I had a bunch of stuff collected to post for MOJO today, but I think I’ll save it until next week because this saying really stuck in my head.

IMG_7572

Of course, we think about Facebook and the like, but in truth, our own imaginations fill in people’s lives without the help of social media all the time. A few years ago, a friend of mine referred to my “glamorous life.” This shocked and highly amused me because my life is anything but glamorous. She’d filled in the blanks of her knowledge with her perception. Believe me, it was not reality.

How many times have you been discouraged by comparing yourself to someone else?

How did that slow you down?

This week, remind yourself of how fabulous you are. Take some time to appreciate your own highlight reel.

Lisa Coffee

Levels of Writing Awareness

In my recent quest to read widely, I've noticed a number of things that writers do to irritate me.  I'm reading published works that are part of our public library collection.  These are books that librarians and publishers thought were quality reads.  The authors followed the "rules" of good writing.  They gave us strong verbs and specific nouns.  The characters had unique qualities and evolved as the book reached the end.  The plots had twists and turns, highs and lows.   But none of these books achieved bestseller status or received awards.  I've never even heard of most of them.

Did I enjoy reading these books?  Absolutely.  From reading them, I've learned what I think separates these books from the books that garner critical acclaim.  It's not enough that authors know the "rules" and follow them.  The authors must also have the judgment to know how to use the tools behind these rules.

For example, we're counseled to give the readers multiple senses in every scene so the reader gets fully immersed in the setting.  In several books I've read, the writers inevitably tell us what a character smells like within two paragraphs of the character entering the scene.  By following this rule in such a formulaic fashion, the author makes this technique obvious.  I think this is what editors/agents mean when they say they like books that immerse them in the story without the author intruding.  Whenever we see a writer obviously following a rule, it's like the author has jumped up and said, "I'm now giving you a description of the smells."

All of this just tells me that writing has levels of complication and corresponding levels of awareness that writers must achieve. I've posted about this before, and I think I need to add a fifth category.  This level is the mastery level--the one that perhaps some of us will never get to.  This is the place where we know about all the tools of good writing but then we have the good judgment to use them seamlessly.  For example, we choose not only a specific noun but the noun with the appropriate tone for the moment.  One that reinforces the overall message and theme of the work.  One that creates a true voice for the work.

Who knows if I'll ever get to level five.  But I have to think half of the battle is knowing the level exists, right?

Happy writing, everyone.
Lisa Coffee

A Virtual Kick in the Pants: 270 words a day

A writer friend recently shared a link to a blog post by Chuck Wendig that allows you zero excuses for writing a novel this year.  *Warning: this post uses "colorful" language that is not safe for work/school/non-adults.  Read it here.

The gist of the post is that if you want to write a novel, you have to figure out some way to write 350 words a day, Monday through Friday, for a whole year.  That will get you 91,000 words.  Wendig doesn't allow you to use any excuses to avoid writing those 350 words.

For a YA writer who faces shorter word counts (I've heard 60,000 to 80,000 is the sweet spot for a debut novel), you only need 270 words a day.  Not bad!

I shared the blog with Andrea and Nikki, and I've promised Andrea I'm going to flash her a "0" next time I see her.  That "0" will be for Zero Excuses (though Chuck uses a more adult phrase).

On my first morning of the Zero Excuses plan, I wrote 680 words on my smart phone.  Not too shabby.

Want to write a novel?  What's stopping you? Chances are that Chuck will tell you that excuse is crap.  Get writing.