2018 Challenge: Mature as a Writer and/or Storyteller
On January 1, 2016, I challenged writers to "Go Rogue"
and use our power as writers to push the envelope for good. This year I've been thinking about how I might challenge writers for 2018. What's on my mind this January 1, 2018, is for each of us to mature as a writer and/or a storyteller. (Share that.
I'm thinking about this because recently I've seen comments from writers, people who wish to write, writers who wish to get their books or articles published, as well as screenwriters who'd like their scripts produced, that reveal their work might not quite be ready. I can tell by what they say that their writing has not yet matured to a place where it is publishable or producible because of comments that reveal the don't understand genres or the differences in what publishers publish or producers produce.
Discovering we're not "mature" in what we do is hard to take. I know because I've discovered myself there at times. I can see in my past where I thought my writing had matured, and yet I was not seeing the publishing results that I wanted. Now, looking back with the distance of time, I can see how my writing just wasn't ready yet. I couldn't see it for myself at the time. I thought I was mature. Have you ever thought about why we always think we're mature and then later realize we're not?
Maturity, I think, can be deceiving and elusive -- even for writers. (Share that.
) Doesn't it seem that wherever we are in life, we think we're mature?
Think of a young child telling her Mom, "I can do it myself!" and struggling to tie her shoes. Or a first grader who is so much more mature than a kindergartner. What about the senior in high school who is so much more mature than a sixth grader, or a college senior who is light years ahead of that high school senior. By the time we're twenty (or thirty...or forty) we're sure we're really mature now. And we are... comparatively.
But maturing never stops as long as we're on this earth. And writers are no different.
I'm sure wherever we are, we think we're mature. And we are... comparatively. As long as we've continued to grow. But we also thought we were mature writers two years ago and, if we've continued to write, we have matured more. Then, of course, we think we're really
mature now! Two years from now, what will we think? That we weren't really as mature of a writer as we thought we were?
So, what's my point? My point is, as writers we need to continue to mature -- in our ability to write well, in our ability as storytellers, in every way -- so that at some point we will cross that elusive line that puts us in the place where we are finally published or produced. (And even then the maturing should not end.) (Share that.
How do we get there? I can think of three ways all writers can continue to mature in their writing. There may be other ways to mature in our writing, but without doing these three consistently, I don't believe any writer can mature. (Share that.
It is impossible to mature as a writer without actually writing. Occasionally I meet a wanna-be writer who is studying and preparing but who thinks he won't write until he knows enough that whatever he writes will be a success. Like riding a bicycle, you can't learn how to do it without actually doing it -- and failing.
Don't be afraid of failing in your writing. It's all profitable because it's all training on the road to success. Rejection of your writing when you submit it is never fatal. (Share that!
I don't think it matters what you write: articles, books, fiction, non-fiction, screenplays, short stories. Just write. If you're not sure where to start, write something short, like an article, a 1,200-word true story for Chicken Soup for the Soul
, or a short fictional story. Write a children's book, either fiction or nonfiction. Any of that is great training for writing longer pieces like novels, novellas, or non-fiction books.
We learn and mature by writing.
Study writing. Study story and story structure and how-to write books.
Study publisher's guidelines and writers market books to learn what they want to publish. Study grammar and good writing.
Take a workshop online or attend a writers conference
. Get out some old tapes or DVDs of workshops and listen to them again.
Get a new book about writing (or get one off your shelf you bought but haven't read yet. I have lots of those.). Which overlaps with the next section...
If we want to mature as writers, we cannot neglect learning from others who are ahead of us. Writers must make time to read.
Read what you want to write.
If you want to write for magazines, read the magazines you want to write for. (Or, if you love reading a certain magazine(s), that's probably a good market for you to write for!)
If you want to write novels, read novels in the genre you want to write in. Learn from them. Pay attention to how the author did things, like how she presented information, introduced characters, gave backstory, grew suspense, did dialogue.
If you want to write screenplays, read screenplays
If you want to write children's books, you should be reading them
Read how-to writing books.
I'm building a collection of writing books and products that I recommend. Find my recommendations in Dianne's Online Store
There are so many great blogs out there it can be overwhelming. Here are a few of my favorites:
On writing books:
On marketing books:
On writing children's books:
Finally, join Goodreads Reading Challenge
and challenge yourself to read more this year. I love tracking what I get read each year. That helps me read more. I didn't get nearly as much reading done last year as I wanted to. I want to step it up in 2018.
I hope this coming year is a wonderful year for you of growing and maturing as a writer and/or a storyteller and making your publishing dreams come true.
#Writers, here's a challenge and helps for maturing in your #writing this year. (Share this.
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Holidays - A Writer's Interruption?
It's that "wonderful time of the year" again. December. Christmas is crowding in and crowding everything else out.
I used to get frustrated with holidays - any of them throughout the year. They are such an interruption to writing and usually come when I'm on a roll.
I'm changing my attitude. Holidays are good. God gave us holidays for a reason. (For you purists, yes, I know God didn't give us Christmas in the same way he gave the Israelites Festivals and holidays
. But he gave those holidays and set the example.) Holidays are a time to slow down. Or stop. To think. Remember. Remember what is important. Be thankful. Re-evaluate. Re-focus.
Without holidays time just spins past and we risk not even noticing. (Tweet that!
So December is a time to analyze what we've done this past year and where we're going in the next one. Are we going to get done the goals we set at the beginning of the year? Or is it another year to be disappointed? Goals unfinished. Writing projects undone.
Some of us have been doing this writing-thing for a while. We've seen many Decembers roll around in our writing lives. It can feel like December after December of unmet goals turn into years gone by and the writing projects we set out to do years ago remain unfinished. (Tweet that!
When I started out in this gig, my big dream was to write a novel. Guess what is the one thing I have not done? (Well, I've written a few unpublished novels. I've learned a great deal from writing those.) I've written more than 300 published magazine articles and short stories, hundreds more online articles, six nonfiction books, contributed to twenty more books, and have written five feature-length screenplays. But not a publishable novel.
Can you relate? Does this feel familiar? What's a writer to do?
How to Accomplish Your Goals
Then the next logical question is what do we do about it? As I look ahead to this next thirteen months - December through next year - here are my thoughts about it at this moment:
1. Make a new plan.
I never subscribed to that "write every day" rule. (Tweet that!
) I much prefer to have a large chunk of uninterrupted time when I can concentrate on a big project. But I never get there. I've always thought I needed to get everything else done first so I can enjoy my big special project. But I never get everything else done.
Time for a new plan. I'm going to take the advice I've heard often and try to write every day. I know the word count will add up. I know I'll be chipping away at that big goal.
Does this strategy sound like it can work for you?
2. Reevaluate your schedule
What has cluttered up your time? All that "everything" I mentioned in #1 above is just stuff. Yes, it's stuff that needs to be done. Email and platform-building and marketing, oh my. But you know what? It can wait.
I'm putting my writing first this next thirteen months. Not "everything else." (Tweet that!
3. Start a New Job
Writing is a job. It's our work. Our career. (Even if you have another one with a paycheck.)
So I'm going to claim my most creative time for my writing. And I'm going to guard it.
My most creative time is first thing in the morning. (That is, after I read my Bible for a bit and feed the cat and give her her insulin.) If I start with Facebook, email, or something else it eats up my time. By 10:00 other things come into my world that demand attention. I need to get writing done before then. Ignore all else. Even the phone.
What is your best, most creative time? How can you block off and guard that time for writing?
One day a week I must go out of town. Okay, that's worked into my schedule. I make up for it on Saturdays.
What must-dos are on your schedule? How can you work around that to still get your writing time?
Like a job you show up for or get fired. That's what writing should be. Honestly, I think most writers should be fired. (Tweet that!
) They, or we, are not doing our jobs. Do you want to keep your job as a writer? Then get to work. (I'm talking to myself. Mostly.)
4. Make new goals.
Monthly. Weekly. Daily. We know how quickly the end of the year rolls around. Again.
Do you make yearly goals? I do. But obviously these must be broken down to monitor how we're progressing.
My new "write every day" goal does not have a word count attached. I have no idea how many words I'll write each day and that's okay for now. I'm making progress. (Tweet that!
Also without a deadline attached is research. I want to do research for some projects I've had in mind for a long time. I've always felt January is a good time to do that but I've yet to get it done. This January, I'll try again.
What new or renewed writing goals are your going to make?
5. Never give up on your Dream
Don't they say dreams come true in December? Renew your dream. Your Christmas wish.
For me, I'm renewing my dream of writing a novel.
What's your renewed dream?
Let's work harder than ever before through the coming months to make our dreams come true. Let's put words away in a manuscript like savings in a bank and watch them build up. (Tweet that!
) Remember I'm right there with you, saving toward the same goal. I hope my Christmas gift to me next year will be a finished novel.
6. Be grateful for what has gone before
All that other writing is not wasted at all. It was learning. Even those unpublished novels I've written were learning projects.
- Articles taught me how to put words on paper and how to communicate thoughts coherently and succinctly.
- The nonfiction books taught me about publishing and the marketplace and selling books.
- Contributions to 20 books gave me confidence and standing in the writing and book world.
- Screenplays taught me story structure and building characters and worlds and, again, writing and communicating coherently as well as telling a story succinctly.
All of this learning has been necessary for me to get to where I know I can write the novel I've always wanted to write. So here I am. (Tweet that!
It has been a long journey - more than 25 years of a writing journey for me. But all of it has brought me here. And now I can't wait for the new year. I'm already writing daily. I've already started my novel. I can't wait to see where this leads in the new year.
But first, I'm grateful for the interruption of holidays.
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3 Magic Questions for Writers that will Strengthen Your Story
This past summer I had the opportunity to take an online workshop called "The Master Screenwriter" from Derrick Warfel
, a film producer. In the workshop he shared some wisdom from Paddy Chayefsky
, a three-time Academy Award winner for Best Screenplay.
This is about STORIES
- so it's not just for screenwriters but also for novelists, short story writers, or whatever story you're writing.
Chayefsky kept three questions taped above his typewriter. Derrick Warfel said it's amazing how many scripts he sees that don't answer these basic questions. (Tweet that!
) He said if writers would answer these three questions, they'd be a long ways ahead of most of the other writers out there.(Tweet that!
If you are participating in National Novel Writing Month
, check your story now and see if you're answering these questions.(Tweet that!
Whatever story you're writing, maybe you need to stop now and consider these questions to make your story stronger. (Tweet that!
So what are these three magic questions?
1. Who is your main character?
Obviously this is not just the character's name, but who they are as a person. Their weaknesses and strengths. Their experiences. Their fears. It might include their job. Or their family. Or their connections.
This is not just make up quirky character traits time. This is making wise choices about who this character needs to be to carry the story. (Tweet that!
2. What does he/she want? (Very badly!)
In every story, the main character must want something. This drives the story forward. If your character doesn't want something, and want it badly, this is a warning sign. (Tweet that!
It may mean a lot of things (that I haven't thought of), but one thing I've thought of that it might mean is that you're going to have a passive main character. By "passive character" I mean a weak character, which is uninteresting in a story. Nobody roots for a passive character.
A passive character is one whom things happen to. But that character doesn't actually do anything. They don't get mad. They don't get up and fight back. They are passive. They just sit there. They are a victim. Everyone feels sorry for a victim, but we don't root for a victim until that person gets up and fights. Beware of passive characters.
For more about passive characters, see my blog post from November 1, 2015: Writing Stories: What Your Story Needs - Part 1
3. What's keeping him/her from getting it?
Finally, whatever your main character wants, there needs to be a barrier to him or her getting it.(Tweet that!
) It could be a big evil person or monster. It could be something monstrous in nature, such as big storm or natural disaster. Or it could be something within themselves which they need to overcome. But there has to be something or someone standing in the way of your main character getting what they want. Otherwise, they'd just go get it and the story would be over (and pretty boring), right?
So what about your story-in-progress? Have you answered these three questions? If not, maybe you should stop now and find the answers. I can pretty well guarantee you'll have a stronger story if you do.
Need more help? Try this:
Think of your favorite novel, story, or movie and answer these three magic questions for that story. Here are some suggestions. How would you answer these questions for:
- The classic story "Cinderella"
- The story, novel, or screenplay you're writing now.
Here's an example:
The movie: Die HardWho is the main character?
A hard core, street smart New York cop visiting Los Angeles where the other cops don't know him.
What does he/she want?
He wants to reconnect and reconcile with his wife who moved to LA to take a great job.What's keeping him/her from getting it?
The terrorists who have taken over the skyscraper where his wife's office is holding its Christmas party and have taken everyone, including his wife, hostage.
Now, how would you answer these three questions for your story? (Tweet that!
Do you find these three "magic" questions helpful to you as a story writer?
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Be Intentional in Your Writing
Someone once told me there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide people into two groups and those who don't. Okay, well, if we can have just a little fun with that, based on my observations, I wonder if we can divide writers into two groups: (Tweet that!
- Those who write because they love to write. These are the writers who say they "can't not write."
- And those who write because they have something they want to say, a message, something they desperately want to get out to the world.
Two Kinds of Writers
Sure, there's definitely some overlap here. Perhaps there is some of both in most of us. But there are definite differences too.
Those who write for the love of writing say they would write even if they never got published, even if nobody else ever read what they write. They write because they love to write. Maybe it's the story creation. Perhaps it's the discipline of thinking out loud, having to capture thoughts in concrete enough terms to put them on paper. I'm not sure what these writers love so much about writing that keeps them addicted. What would you fill in that blank with? The point is, for these writers, if someone could somehow tell them they couldn't write anymore — make it illegal, take away all pens, paper, computers, whatever… — they'd find a way. (Tweet that!
) Writing for them is like breathing. They have to. They'd do it anyway… regardless.
Those who write because they have something they desperately want to say might not feel the same way about writing. They write because they see writing as the best possible way to get their message out to the widest possible audience. They are not satisfied with spreading their message one on one, to the circle of people they can influence. They want more. Writing and publishing is their way of seeking that "more," that bigger audience. For these writers, if someone could somehow tell them they couldn't write anymore — if someone made writing illegal — they would find another way to get their message out. They would speak. They would go on TV or radio or the Internet or whatever, but they'd find another way to get their message out… regardless. (Tweet that!
Do you identify with one of these groups of writers more than the other? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?
The Writing in Front of Our Faces
Do you ever look at the top sellers or suggestions for books on Amazon or Goodreads? Or what's on the first tables you see when you walk into a bookstore like Barnes & Noble? Whether it's Amazon, Goodreads (which is owned by Amazon), or a brick and mortar bookstore, when I glance at what those companies put before my face, I'm somewhat surprised.
Only somewhat surprised because I know those titles represent "the world" and what, apparently, most people want to read. (Though I'm even skeptical about that. Judging by what I see on TV and hear on radio, it could very well be what companies WANT us to think is what most people want.) But most of the time it's not anything close to what I'd like to see, hear, or read.
What does surprise me is the topics and types of material that tops these lists of what is selling. In fiction I see lots of titles and book covers for stories that are "romance," but they are clearly steamy, sexual, who knows what the writer has put on the pages between the covers. I don't want to find out. I don't want to read that stuff. Many of these books are unabashedly called "erotica." I don't want to read this stuff.
If you're thinking these ads are coming up on my feed because that is what I search for, look at, or buy, you're wrong. I've never searched for, clicked on, looked at, or purchased "romance" of any kind or "erotica" ever. Again, I don't want to read that stuff.
Then there are the stories that bash our nation, or one political party, or that portray all law enforcement officers as crooked, dirty, underhanded, and violent.
Are these types of stories the most popular — not only for readers to read but is this what writers are writing? I don't want to read that stuff. (Tweet that!
Why Is This Important?
Why do you write? Do you just want to write stories that sell? So you can make money? Do you follow the trends, hoping to get in on the ride to the top? Are you a follower? Just doing what seems to be popular? Are you satisfied with indulging people's worst sides, helping them go deeper into degradation, taking their society with them?
Or do you have something important to say? Something that will lift your reader to a higher place, a better place? Do you have a message that will be good for your readers? Do you have some insight or knowledge or story that will help your little corner of the world, or your society, or your nation, or your world become a better place? (Tweet that!
) If so, are you intentional in writing that message or that story?
Be Intentional in Your Writing
However you chose to write, whatever genres you choose to indulge in, I hope you will choose the nobler side. (Tweet that!
) I hope you choose to write what might be less popular in order that you might make the world a better place, not a worse place.
Have a message — a good one. Be a noble writer. Choose the good. This doesn't mean stories have to be fluff and sugar. Be a leader, not a follower. (Tweet that!
) Have a good message. And be intentional about making your message known through your writing.
READ THIS RELATED ARTICLE:
Grow as a Writer in One Week During the Coming 168’s “Write of Passage” Contest
You're familiar with NaNoWriMo and its benefits
. Writers spend a month writing a 50,000 word project. Have you ever taken the challenge? For me it has been a wonderful exercise that accelerated my learning curve — because of the relatively short deadline. The challenge packs a lot of learning into a short amount of time.
Well are you ready for another similar challenge? How about writing a short screenplay in a week? (Tweet that!
Mentored writing exercise
Not up for a one week challenge? Well what if I sweetened the pot by adding a mentor to journey through that week with you? That's right, for the price of entry you'd get a writing mentor who would look at your story and script several times throughout the week. (Tweet that!
) You'd get feedback from your mentor, someone with experience. They would make suggestions and give advice. Wouldn't that be worth the price of admission?
But wait. You're thinking you have no interest in screenwriting? Ok. Think of it like this: It's all about the story. You could have a one week, mentored challenge all about story. (Tweet that!
) And if you don't know it already, STORY
Challenge - a theme and a Bible verse
I'm talking about the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage."
This is a short screenplay writing contest. You get to write a short screenplay — 12 pages max — in one week.
You can't start early. You can't enter a script you've already written. That's not fair.
You have to write your story on two things the 168 Film Project assigns you: a Theme. And a Bible verse. (Tweet that!
That's right. You're assigned your writing topic.
Does that sound intimidating?
What if I gave you one of those two pieces of information right now? Would that help take the edge off? Every year the Theme of the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage" is announced in advance. The Theme for the 2017 "Write of Passage" contest is … <drum roll, please>: "POWER."
So now you have half of the information on which you would base your story. Is your imagination running wild? Got an idea? That's great. But hold on. You still need the other half of the information you'll be basing your story on. That's how they keep you from starting early (which is cheating). You'll be assigned the other piece of information at the start of the timed contest. It will come in the form of an assigned Bible verse.
Once you receive your assigned Bible verse, you'll think about that and the theme "Power" and you'll come up with an idea. Then you'll brainstorm a story idea. You might run your idea past your assigned mentor, called a "Development Executive."
Then you'll start to write.
From the start of the timed contest when you receive your assigned Bible verse, you'll have 168 hours to write your script and turn it in. 168 hours? That's 7 days times 24 hours. 7 x 24 = 168.One warning:
If you like to write stories that would be "R" rated if a movie, due to their graphic nature, this contest might not be for you. This contest is looking for redemptive stories. That doesn't mean you can't write hard stories about tough issues. You can. It just means this contest is not going to like graphic images, gratuitous sex or violence, foul language, especially using the name of the Lord as foul language, that kind of thing. It's a bigger challenge to write an in depth story without that kind of thing anyway, so that's good for us. (Tweet that!
There are some other Rules. You can read them here: Write of Passage FAQs
It's a challenge. It's not easy. It can even induce fear and trembling in writers. (Tweet that!
) But do you think you're alone? Of course not. Other writers experience the same anxiety. Similar panic. The same pressure to come up with a story. The same delete key. Just like the poor writer struggling to come up with a story in this short video:
An entertaining "Write of Passage" promo video!
But if you'll give it a try, you'll grow as a writer. That's pretty much guaranteed.
What you'll need:
You may need to learn a little about screenplay format. And you'd need to grab a free screenwriting program. If you already have Scrivener, that will do the job. Scroll down on this page to find a selection of Screenwriting Software
you can get and use for free: Write of Passage FAQs
You'll need a basic understanding of screenplay format. Need an example to follow? Read previous "Write of Passage" scripts here, and pay attention to the formatting: Write of Passage Top Scripts
Your screenwriting software will put things where they're supposed to be, you just need to know what goes where and how to tell your program to put it there.
You mean there are perks besides the practice in creating a story? And the feedback and critiquing and suggestions and mentoring by an experienced Development Executive (DE)?
Well there's a cash prize. And your script may get produced. You writing would get exposure. You'd get some experience. You'd get some focused practice in. You'd get feedback from your mentor, that is your DE. Plus, you'll get all that in one week and then you can get on with your life and your other writing projects. (Tweet that!
For all this focused, personal mentoring, the price of admission is pretty inexpensive when you think about it. The sooner you sign up, the lower the price. Sign up here: Write of Passage Contest Entry
. Enter now for the best price.
The writing week for 2017 is October 9 - 16, 2017
. That's a Monday to a Monday. 168 hours. One week. It's coming soon. You'd better sign up now!
Again, even if your interest is not in writing screenplays, this is a great opportunity to grow in your ability to develop your stories into stories that will capture the hearts of your audience, whether that is for readers of novels, stories in your nonfiction writing, your story-telling in your speaking engagements, or other opportunities. And if you are interested in screenwriting, this is an excellent opportunity to get your feet wet, get started, or advance in that desire. (Tweet that!
Learn more about the 168 Film Project's "Write of Passage"
contest here. I hope to see you competing this year.
Don't miss out on any of the great information shared in this blog. To get each monthly article by email, use the Feedblitz sign-up in the upper right of this page. Or use this link to subscribe to "Butts About Writing."
Or text BAW to 1-781-262-3877.