It’s Time to Finish Your Book

January 4, 2022 § 8 Comments

Is this the year you recommit to a project that’s languished, unfinished, for months or years? The one where you think:

one day…
when I can dig out my notes…
and have a few solid hours to really dive in…

Newsflash: Your calendar will never magically pop up “Today You Can Focus Entirely on That One Project.” To finish that book rusting in the back of your mind, you must actively bring it forward.

First, pick one. (You know you have more than one.)

Which project gets you closer to a big life goal? Or envision boarding a lifeboat, where you’re allowed to bring only one manuscript. You probably already know in your heart which one gets that seat. Part of every artist loves to dither, saying, Yeah, but if I work on that other thing, maybe… That dithering part of us is basically a three-year-old negotiating between a sundress or their superhero suit for preschool today. Mother Creativity doesn’t care, as long as we get out the door.

  • Pick the one you’re excited about, especially if it’s your first book.
  • Pick the one that’s most culturally relevant right now, because then you’ll be able to engage in public conversations that help shape your work.
  • Pick the one that makes the most money the fastest.
  • Pick the “book of your heart,” the one you’d feel saddest about not having finished if tomorrow you stopped writing forever.

Whatever you pick, stay committed.

Once you’ve chosen, your other works-in-progress will clamor for attention. Every project sounds more fun, more interesting, more exciting than sitting down to what you’ve chosen. This is normal. Your brain is afraid of a big undertaking without guaranteed success, so it generates distractions. Stay committed. Write down shiny new ideas, but move on. Remind your brain they’ll be safe until you come back. The amount of great ideas we have and are capable of executing far exceed the number of hours available to work.

Restarting doesn’t have to mean from the beginning. You don’t have to rethink the whole project or make a huge plan or set aside two weeks when your decks are clear (let me just pencil that in for never).

Start small, by “touching” the manuscript almost every day. Don’t sternly assign yourself a word count yet—just take a walk or a shower and actively think about the story. Open up the file and read one page. Tweak a couple of paragraphs. Make a playlist that brings you back to the mood and voice. Keep touching your book, gently renewing your interest and energy until you’re ready to write. Ask your project: What’s holding me back? Do you need more information? An outline of your story so far? A writing buddy for supportive coworking? Therapy?

You don’t actually have to be “inspired.” Inspiration is like walking into a factory, seeing conveyor belts and drill presses and steam generators and saying, “I could make something with this!” Someone still has to clock in and start work. Give it your best try for a week:

  • Book a Zoom or in-person date with a writing buddy, or join a co-writing session (some links below). Showing up for other people is often easier than showing up for ourselves.
  • Use a prompt within your book. For example, every new sentence starts with the next letter of the alphabet. Or imagine an elevator stopping at a particular numbered floor—write about the main character at that age.
  • Write the book jacket copy or synopsis to clarify the story in your head, or summarize chapters as if for a proposal.
  • Write about what you’re going to write: Scene with Sandy and me in the kitchen, when I realized she was dating my ex and it made me really uncomfortable. She had just dyed her hair blonde and I was alphabetizing the spice rack so I wouldn’t say she looked awful. She said…

And before you know it, you’re writing the scene instead of about the scene. Or at least getting down the first draft by telling the story to yourself. You’ll fix the narrative in the second draft.

Showing up to your project whether or not you’re inspired creates energy and momentum. The most successful writers I know are not waiting for the conveyor belt to bring them the next widget—they’re unpacking parts with no instructions, rolling up their sleeves and tinkering. Working without inspiration can feel weird and awkward and not like your normal happy routine of writing when circumstances are just right (rarely!). See what it feels like to do whatever it takes, to revise or rebuild or seek help with your story. Finishing a book will call for your nervous, unsettled, tedious and painful time—and when you’re done, it will be worth it.

Join me for mindset shifting and step-by-step goal-setting January 12th. Register here for This Year You’ll Finish Your Book (recording available for all registrants).

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book.

Finding the “I” Character in Memoir

February 18, 2021 § 2 Comments

By Dinty W. Moore

As a teacher of memoir since before the invention of the lightbulb, one challenge I see writers struggle with consistently is how to make the “I” on the page a fully living, breathing, walking and talking character. And even more important, how to make that “I” someone the reader will want to spend time with, over ten or 250 pages.

Phillip Lopate aptly points out that the problem for writers is thinking that the ‘I’ we type onto the page “is swarming with background and a lush, sticky past…” Instead, Lopate warns, all readers will actually see in the letter ‘I’ is “a slender telephone pole standing in the sentence, trying to catch a few signals to send on.”

I know this problem well, because it remains an issue for me, in my own early drafts. It is maddeningly difficult to escape my own mind, one in which the mere thought of myself brings up this complex, swirling, tumbling wealth of memories and associations. What is needed, however, is to somehow enter the mindset of an anonymous reader, one who knows virtually nothing about me.

Yet it is not enough to merely tell the reader who I am. Why should a reader believe me, of all people? Why would you believe some stranger in a Starbucks who wandered up to your table and began explaining his positive traits, unjust obstacles, and charming little idiosyncrasies? The natural reaction to the fellow in the coffee shop is to think, “Sure buddy, I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Readers aren’t that different.

On Wednesday of next week, Feb. 24th, from 1 to 2:15 pm, I’ll be exploring the various ways we can craft a compelling “I” onto the memoir page, and how that person becomes a rounded, engaging, and believable presence. The 75-minute Zoom webinar, hosted by the wonderful Jane Friedman, will focus on:

  • Why characterization is critical
  • How the ways in which we assess people in “real life” transfer to how readers assess us on the page
  • What to reveal, and what to keep hidden   
  • The importance of compassion when writing about others, but also when writing about the self
  • How to gain the reader’s trust through honesty and fairness about yourself and your adversaries (And the surprising way sharing your own faults affects the reader!)

The webinar is useful for writes at all levels,  

  • When: Wednesday, February 24, 2021
  • Time: 1 p.m.–2:15 p.m. Eastern Time / 10 a.m. Pacific Time
  • Fee: $25

Registration and more information here.

Free Online Memoir Summit

November 4, 2018 § 6 Comments

Wake up, writers! I just heard the most amazing thing about authorial voice!

Having trouble making it to conferences? Finding workshop dates impossible or prices out of reach? Here’s a chance to enjoy a sampler of conference-style sessions you can watch in your yoga pants for free.

Starting November 8th, Village Writing School will present a series of free online lectures and interviews discussing memoir craft, marketing, platform-building and more. The video sessions will remain live until November 12th, and registrants may access them at their leisure over the five days.

Sessions include:

Family and Religion—Two Scary Topics
Ruth Wariner’s memoir, The Sound of Gravel, details her escape at fifteen, with her brother and three younger sisters, from a polygamist cult in Mexico of which her father had been the leader. The book was an instant New York Times Best Seller and was called a “bracing, unforgettable story of survival” by Entertainment Weekly. Ruth will join us to discuss the difficulties of writing about these two emotionally-charged topics and why you should.

Telling Your #MeToo Story
It’s vitally important for writers to write and publish #MeToo memoirs. But what are the psychological challenges? What are the technical challenges? What writing techniques can help you portray a #MeToo scene? What should you keep in mind about your audience and about approaching publishers? What can you expect when you publically share your story? Tracy Strauss, who has published essays on writing #MeToo in Poets and Writers Magazine as well as Ms. Magazine, and whose own #MeToo story is forthcoming from Skyhorse Press, will guide you through this difficult topic with her courage and wit. You, too, can write for healing, for change, for empowerment.

It Doesn’t Take as Long as You Think
Rachael Herron, author of Fast Draft Your Memoir in 45 Hours and A Life in Stitches, will prove to you that you DO have time to tell your story. She’ll also show you how to figure out what that story is and how to find the best spine for it. No more excuses!

Thoughts on Your Story, Beginning to End
Marion Roach Smith, who has taught the craft of memoir to thousands of students both in university classes and online will show you what to consider before beginning your story. She will also examine some special challenges of writing about trauma and tell you what to do if you still don’t have a happy ending.

Other Ways to Tell Your Story
Allison K Williams, who teaches workshops on blogging and essays and hosts the Brevity podcast, will show you how to tell your story through live and written short forms. Even if a book is not your thing—or not your thing yet—Allison will show you how to get your voice out there and how to build a readership for your story.

Publishing Your Story—What New York Wants You to Know
Renée Fountain, President of GH Literary, will discuss the potential for memoir, the things to avoid, and what New York is looking for. And as a literary agent seeking memoir, she’ll tell you what she is looking for.

It’s Never Too Soon to Build Your Audience
Beyond a “platform,” you want an authentic connection with readers. What are some ways you can begin to build that relationship long before your book comes out? Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia will show you how such connections can become the most satisfying part of your writing career.

All sessions are hosted by Alison Taylor-Brown, the founder and director of The Village Writing School, a 501c3 nonprofit. The school is an independent creative writing program, located in beautiful northwest Arkansas. Its mission is to help writers tell their stories in a more readable, publishable way. Complete details and speaker bios are here.

Interested? Register here.

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