Monthly Archives: February 2016

Writer’s Notebook

If you call yourself a writer, chances are you have a writer’s notebook tucked in your purse (if you are a woman) or in your pocket or briefcase (if you are a man). imagesIf you don’t have one – run out right now to the Dollar Store, Staples or any other place that sells stationery supplies.

Why? Because it is one of the most essential pieces of equipment a writer must possess.

Why again? Read on chickadee because without it, you will probably never be able to capture the essence of the world. Scratch that – you might be able to if you are a seasoned writer or someone with a photographic memory. But if you are just starting out, a writer’s notebook is a gift from the writing gods above. Take it and use it.

What to jot down in your writer’s notebook

  1. Random thoughts or memories that occur to you as you while away the time waiting for someone. These are precious because you never know what they could lead to.
  2. Enjoy a coffee in an outdoor cafe download (particularly in a large city) and watch the world go by. You will be surprised at the diversity of people that stream by your table. Make notes of the weird, the strange and the ugly. These are the characters you can base some of your own fictional ones on.
  3. Describe that perfect sunset you just witnessed or the hurricane that knocked your deck off and floated it away. The thoughts, impressions and observations that occur to you at that moment may not come back to you. Write them down immediately.
  4. Allows you to brainstorm – an almost impossible task on an iPad, tablet or computer.
  5. Culling words, sentences and phrases from your favorite books and jotting them down in your writer’s notebook. Reading them over will help kick-start your own creative process.

No need for top-of-the-line stationery. All you need is something serviceable. And yes, while you can jot down notes in your phone, it just doesn’t work the same way. For one thing, flipping through them does not jog your mind the way words on a piece of paper does. Try it and you’ll see I’m right.

What’s in your writer’s notebook?

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Writing Workshop for Moms

When: March 24, 2016

image001 (1)Oakville Parent Child Centre

Write a story for your kids … OR about your kids.

Capture their crazy escapades, their hilarious antics and their poignant moments.

What to Expect: Fun, laughter, memories and the ability to flex your creative muscles

Walk Away With:

– Outlines of several stories

  • – Writing and practices to inspire you
  • – Ideas about what to do with your stories
  • – Creative momentum
  • For more information or to register contact OPCC at 905-849-6366

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

20 Rules for Writers

Here are 20 rules for writers, some of which I don’t necessarily agree with

No. 1 – Never open a book with weather – Agree (Boring)

  1. prologues1No. 2 – Avoid prologues – Disagree (I read them all and find them fascinating)
  2. No. 3 – Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue – Agree to a certain degree
  3. No. 4 – Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” – Agree, most of the time
  4. No. 5 – Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. Bah – humbug. J.K. Rowling uses them by the handful – on each page
  5. No. 6 – Never use the words “suddenly”. Agree – within reason.
  6. No. 7 – Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Agree – it can become fatiguing quickly
  7. No. 8 – Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. Agree completelygi-rhythm-episode
  8. No. 9 – Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms
    of the sentences are OK = Agree
  9.  No 10 – Carry something to write on at all times. Agree – you never know when inspiration will hit
  10. No. 11 – If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick – Agree – don’t be stupid
  11. No. 12 – If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page. – Agree. Doing nothing gets you nowhere
  12. No. 13 – Give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Agree – it will bring your book alive
  13. No. 14 – Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better one. Agree, within reason. If you keep changing your mind, you’ll get nowhere
  14. brynn & indyNo. 15 – A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk – Agree, or sleep on it
  15. No. 16 – Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. Agree – your job is to finish your book
  16. No. 17 – Don’t write in public places. Disagree – Write wherever is right for you
  17. No. 18 – Keep a diary. Agree – if you don’t you’ll regret all those great thoughts or character you forgot to jot down
  18. No. 19 – Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. Absolutely agree – don’t depend on just one idea
  19. No. 20 – The way to write a book is to actually write a book. Absolutely agree – just do it.

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Why Bother with a Creative Writing Class?

Good question. Why bother with a creative writing class? After all, can someone actually teach you to write? Different people will probably give you different answers depending on the experience and the type of creative writing teacher they had.

credit: Izhar Cohen

credit: Izhar Cohen

Creative writing classes can help you in many ways … and a major part of it depends on the instructor and what he/she imparts to the student. Some creative writing classes function almost as a form of therapy where writers sit in a large group and nitpick at the submissions of the week. Or they air their troubles of the week and the entire group listens and commiserates. As far as I’m concerned this is a waste of time – if you are interested in mastering your craft and publishing your manuscript.

What should a good creative writing class consist of?

A good creative writing class should have enough students at a similar level so that they are able to contribute meaningfully to the discussion. 8-10 is an ideal number – enough to maintain a dialogue, but small enough so no one gets lost since there are always people who enjoy contributing more than others.free-online-creative-writing-course

  1. The instructor or leader must be able to maintain control of the group at all times so that the discussion does not veer away from the topic at hand.
  2. Time is of the essence. Everyone needs an opportunity to voice their critique and it is only fair that they are given the time to do so.
  3. Critiquing other writer’s works are as important as having your own work critiqued. That is because there is a huge amount that can be learned by looking at another writer’s work. Sometimes you learn what to do and how to do it. Other times you learn what not to do. Critiquing can instill you with a fine eye for detail and can help you to become a better writer.
  4. All participants should be encouraged to add to the discussion … but meaningfully. Some writing groups spend an inordinate amount of time telling the writer how wonderful the writing is, but offering no constructive criticism. This kind of ‘critique’ is meaningless. It might be great for your ego, but no good for your manuscript.
  5. All work and no play does indeed make Jack a dull boy. If the writing instructor takes a bit of time to get to personally know his/her students it will be to the benefit of all because everyone will be more at ease.

What kind of creative writing classes do you enjoy?

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

 

5 Tricks to Improve Your Writing

The five tricks listed below may seem simple and obvious but put them in practice and watch your writing dramatically improve.

  1. Who is Your Reader?woman-reader
  • You may know the genre you are writing in but do you actually know who the people are who make up that community?
  • If they are Young Adults, for example, do you understand the way an older teenager’s mind works?
  • What holds their interest?
  • What are their fears and dreams?
  • What makes them frustrated?
  • Can you write in the language/perspective that they understand?
  1. Short and Sweet

You may know the dictionary from end to end but your reader doesn’t care about that. Choose your words wisely, always keeping your objective in mind – to tease, tantalize and keep your reader’s interest at all times.

Short words and sentences – indeed, short paragraphs give a greater impact and are better understood than long, convoluted passages. The Dickens era is over. People have short attention spans. Remember that.

  1. Write with Power

That means using spirited active language instead of the sluggish passive voice. Any time you catch yourself using ‘was’ or ‘had been’ closely inspect your sentences. Do you need to speak in the past, or is that lazy, lifeless voice creeping in? Another clue to passive writing is long, convoluted sentences. Break them in half and they will almost always present your idea in a clear, concise and more engaging way.

  1. Rash and Brutal

hackingThese two adjectives should represent your writing style. Think of your first draft as a reckless foray into madness. Anything goes – let your characters loose to create as much havoc as they want; let the adverbs and exclamation marks flourish; allow the verbiage to flow; spew out the adjectives; vomit out reams of sentences; go crazy. But become a brutal slicing machine when you start your re-write. Cut the crap.

  1. U.B. Formula

Michael Masterson and Mike Palmer wrote a book called Copy Logic. In it, they suggested that alpha and beta readers should highlight anything they find Confusing, Unbelievable or Boring (C.U.B.). Using three different-colored highlighters to mark the C.U.B. formula makes it easy for the reader to do this and for the author to figure whether they need to make changes or not.

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

How to Avoid Burnout

Someone told me recently during one of my creative writing classes that one of the writers she knew seemed unable to write anymore. She was a good writer, but was probably suffering from burnout download (2)due to rejection from literary agents or publishers or perhaps from critiques that didn’t serve her well.

There are so many reasons writers acquire burnout. You have your novel all written and begin the submission process but then a never-ending round of depression kicks in. You find out publishing houses are closed to direct submissions from writers. They will only look at submissions from literary agents. So you decide to query literary agents. You’ve followed all their guidelines and you have the perfect novel for them according to their wish list and yet, rejection, rejection, rejection.

So you decide on self-publishing. Now you run into another set of problems. It not only costs a bundle to self-publish, there are other inherent problems like how do you publicize it one you have published it and will the work you are so proud of become more than just a vanity piece.

Whatever the situation – burnout happens … and it happens to the best of us. The question is – how do you deal with it?

Here are some ways to remember why you love writing and how to reconnect with that vital part of your soul.

PASSION/ENTHUSIASM/DELIGHT – Dust off your writing, look at it with different eyes and revive the passion you once felt for the craft. Or, close your eyes and try and remember the emotions you felt when you first sat down to plot that great story. So what if someone rejected it? It’s their loss. Do some research and look up all the great authors who have been rejected numerous times and then found their niche.

CHANGE IT UP – So you love writing Young Adult novels but sadly none of your YA novels have sold yet. It’s time to get out of your comfort zone. Try a new genre. Sit down and compose a short story or a memoir. You’ll be surprised at the textures in your writing that you will draw out of yourself. A couple of my students have done this and have come away with spectacular results – you know who you are. They will find these skills transferrable to the stories they are crafting presently and will craft in the future.

-LOVE-love-36983820-900-675LOVE – Remember why you began writing. What was it that made you crave the feeling of creating something out of nothing? Did it give you a rush? Did it make you feel heady? Was it an outlet for stress? Or perhaps it gave you a certain satisfaction. It doesn’t matter what it was. All you need to do is to try and retrieve the love you once felt. Remembering the way you began will help you to do so.

ENJOY – Enjoy the process of writing – of having another world appear beneath your fingertips and on the screen in front of you. Don’t bother thinking about other people’s stories. As in everything else, there will be better writers than you and worse. Take pride in what you are doing and just savor the joy of writing.

LIVE – Leave the compulsion for other activities. If you feel you forced to write a set amount of words a day the joy of writing might slowly dissipate. Have a routine and try to stick with it – but don’t be a slave. Go out, walk your dog, have fun and let your story percolate in the recesses of your brain so that it can drip out like a freshly brewed pot of coffee right when you need it.

Write because you love and enjoy it, and that will seep through your writing and keep you from burning out.

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com

Writing and Thick Skin

If you want to survive as a writer, you will need to develop thick skin – images (1)as thick as a hippopotamus’s behind – for several reasons, but I’ll give you two.

Reason No. 1

When you tell someone you are writing your first novel two actions happen: first, they will tell you how excited they are for you and second – they will ask when your book is being published. It doesn’t matter whether you have just written one chapter or whether you have completed your novel – from then on – that person will query you unmercifully on when you will be published. No one, aside from those in the business, have any clue how long it takes to:

  • Come up with a plot, interesting characters, inciting incident, climax and denouement
  • How long it takes to write 80,000 meaningful words
  • How long it takes to revise it
  • The length of time it takes to acquire an agent (if you acquire one at all)
  • The amount of time it takes for an agent to sell your book to a publisher (if they manage to do it at all)
  • Once accepted by a publisher, how long it takes for edits, book covers, galleys etc. to be done before the book can actually make its way to a book shelf

Reason No. 2

During the writing process, every writer needs input from someone else.

  • Is there an inciting incident that sets the protagonist on his course of action?
  • Is the story flowing well?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Is there too much backstory?
  • Characters? Sub-plots?
  • Do I have a clue what I’m writing about?

Getting answers to these questions can seriously challenge someone with thin skin. How can you not take comments personally? images (3)This is your baby we’re talking about – right? But you have to. Having said that, not all comments are constructive or have to be accepted.

You are the creator of your work. Ultimately, you have the choice of how your work should shape up … but, if you cannot bear the thought of anyone making constructive, or negative, comments about your work then be prepared to never see your novel in print.

Once you get past the idea that critiques are so hard to accept, you will start to view them as wonderful gifts instead.

Writers have to learn to take a lot of rejection. During the act of creating your story, there will be other writers or readers who find your story unpalatable, mediocre or boring. Others will find they want to lop off chunks of your hard work – reams of words that you’ve spent hours writing. It’s tough. You need a thick skin.

Later, when you are trying to acquire an agent there is even more need to develop a thick skin. Most agents don’t seem to even bother reading your query, don’t bother replying or reply with what you know is a form letter.

Don’t worry if the criticism or rejection hurts so much. Take it, cry for a day, find the constructive elements in that critique or remember that popular writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were rejected many times and develop that thick skin.

*****

2016 Spring Writing Classes for Beginners and Advanced

Creative Writing 101 – Tues. afternoons April 12 – June 28 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Wed. afternoons April 13 – June 29 in Oakville

Crafting Your Novel – Thurs. afternoons April 14 – June 30 in Oakville

For more details click on the links or email beverleyburgessbell@gmail.com