Cooking Up A Good Story

 

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When I was a child, I had a problem with stretching the truth just a little bit, especially when doing so would help me avoid punishment from my father. When I would finish my “explanation” of events—the defense of my actions—he’d often say, “You sure cooked up a big one this time, didn’t you?”

Maybe storytelling does have some similarities to cooking.

Just this month, for example, my writing involved what one might call three culinary aspects. 

Now that I have written the last page of my next book, I am starting my rewrites. Starting on page one, I checked my list of ingredients, i.e. plot points. Were they all there? Did I add them in the correct order?

Next I trimmed the fat—those phrases, scenes, even chapters–that didn’t really go anywhere and didn’t lend to moving the story forward.

On the next run through, I focused on the spice, the sauce, asking myself if there was just enough to keep the story interesting for the reader.

After that, I closed up my file. I will let the story simmer for awhile. Although I will not actively work on it, I will use this time to let new thoughts/ideas come to the forefront, contemplating things that will improve the story and trashing those that won’t.

A few months from now, I will open the file and begin my second round of rewrites before giving it to my taste testers (beta readers) who will read it and give me their opinions which will be used for the final rewrite.

The next phase is up to the customers. Will they my latest recipe?

They say the “proof is in the pudding.”

 

 

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Don’t Quit on a Bad Day

 

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A freckle-faced junior high student threw his glove in the dirt and stomped off the field. “I’m just not cut out for baseball. I quit.”

Danny had walked every player he’d pitched to the whole game. He had heard enough boo’s and seen more than his share of raised fists to last a lifetime. He was the victim of defeat.

His parents talked to him later that evening, telling him that they’d stand behind him in his decision, but he needed to think about it over the weekend and then talk with them one more time.

They were teaching him a very important lesson: never quit on a bad day.

Writers have days when our stories just don’t come together, when constant interruptions steal our momentum, or the well of creativity seems to have dried up.

A day or two later, we have a good day and are on a high because things just flow together. We swear there isn’t a more wonderful thing to be doing with our time than w.r.i.t.i.n.g.

If we had quit because of a bad day, we would never have experienced the success that was just around the corner.

So, if the agent doesn’t sign us, we don’t win a coveted award, or our sales for the month aren’t what we had hoped for, let’s not give up.

Because

success is waiting for us

just around the corner.

The Pause that Refreshes

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“I’m going for a walk.”

“Want me to go with you?”

“No, I just need a little space.”

“Space for what?”

“You know, some time by myself to do a little thinking…to get my thoughts together before the big meeting.”

Jim voices a common need for many of us. He knows the value of a reflective pause.

Juliet Funt, CEO of White Space at Work, calls this pause for restoration—this brief period of reflection, this pause between activities—White Space.

As authors, we may need White Space many times throughout our work day. I often head for the refrigerator to refill my glass with ice, sit on the concrete bench in my backyard, or drive to the dry cleaners. Others may go for a walk or a swim.

It doesn’t really matter where we go or what we do, the fact is we need to let go of thoughts that rob us of productive time at work.

It may happen at specific times of the day or it may be quite unexpected. It may be caused by overwork or fatigue.

The point is we often need White Space to redirect our attention back to the task at hand, so that productivity climbs and creativity is restored.

So, take that nap, or walk the dog.

White Space is “a break with a lofty purpose.”

To Blog or Not to Blog

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“Still posting each week? I can’t believe you’re still at it. I hope it has been worth all the time and effort.”

My friend’s comment prompted me to re-evaluate my blogging habit. Was it just a useless exercise or was there real value to it?

Just how was this use of my time impacting my writing business?

Here’s what I discovered:

1)  Blogging on a regular basis is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to keep my customer base engaged.

2)   Blogging definitely raises my rank in target keywords in search the engines.

3)   Blogging lets visitors to my site know that I am active in my craft.

4)   Blogging keeps me actively learning so I can pass along relevant information to my followers.

For me, blogging on a regular basis is definitely worth it.

If you are a writer without a website of your own, I would strongly recommend getting one. If you don’t feel that you’re ready to commit to at least a once-a-week blog, I urge you to find several sites you like and write a comment on each of them every week.

A Journey Worth Taking

 

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Diana Nyad is an American long-distance swimmer. In 2013, she became the first person confirmed to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage.

This was her fifth attempt to do so.

Did you know that Diana is also an author? Her book, Find A Way, has hundreds of insights into the life of this remarkable woman. Well worth reading.

In a recent interview she was asked how she kept pursuing her goal in the face of four defeats. She replied that she had always had the attitude that, “Even if we never make it, it’s still a journey worth taking.”

That’s how I view the writing journey.

Even if I never

sell a lot of books,

hit the best-seller’s list,

become particularly well-known,

I consider that the writing journey is definitely worth taking.

What about you?

Who Can You Call On?

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Whether you are the newly-elected President of the United States or appointed as a group leader in a college class, you will find out early on that you cannot do it all by yourself. You need the advice of those who have certain areas of expertise.

Just like in your circle of friends you find that one is your main confidant, and another makes you laugh when you feel down, so a writer needs to be surrounded with a group of fellow authors which are especially good at certain aspects of writing.

I have a “go to” list which I have labeled “Details”, “Word Choice/Imagery”, “Backstory,” “Historian”, “Show-Don’t Tell”, and “Encouragement.” When I am stuck, I know exactly who to go to for advice.

They have my back.

And, you need a similar network, too.

These people may be local or accessed by phone or internet. They may be members of your critique group or not. But, they should be trustworthy, honest, possess quality writing skills, and willing to help.

And, don’t forget. They’ll need you, from time to time, too.

Think about those skills you will share with them and what positive impact you will have on the quality of their writing.

There are lots of helpful books on various aspects of writing. Most of us have dozens of them.

However, nothing beats the personal investment one can make in the life of a fellow writer.

 

Got GRIT?

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All writers need it.

Successful authors have it.

So, just what is “GRIT”?

According to best-selling author, Angela Duckworth, GRIT is “sustained perseverance and passion, especially for long-term goals.”

We are able to recognize it in ourselves and in fellow writers.

It’s determination to succeed.

It’s that fire in an author’s eyes when asked a question about writing or when a new idea for a book “pops” into their head.

It’s a lamp glowing on their desk at 2 A.M.

It’s that relentless scribbling of notes as the writer attends their umpteenth conference.

It’s that mesmerized look as a writer meets their favorite author in person for the very first time.

It’s hours, days, months, and even years of hard—and oftentimes—lonely work, punctuated with a willingness to forgo momentary pleasures in order to fulfill their dream.

It’s that smile on their face as they proudly display the cover of their new book for the camera while secretly planning the next one in their head.