Do You Doubt Yourself…your writing?

  famous authors, writers,    I ran across a description of one of my enemies….DOUBT!  And it got me to thinking. Author, Jacqueline Winspear wrote: “Doubt. Was it an emotion? A sense? Or was it just a short stubby word to describe a response that could diminish a person in a finger snap?”

I wrote earlier about my being in good company.  Regardless if we writers are obscure or famous, we all doubt ourselves and our work.  What if Henry Charles Bukowski, or Ernest Hemingway, or John Steinbeck had let DOUBT win?  Put away their pen, dumped their scribbles into a shoe box and made a trip to the attic, got a day job and never wrote another word?   It doesn’t bear thinking about.

famous authors, writers, famous quotesJ. Michael Straczynski:  “When in ‘doubt’, blow something up.”

 

 

F.Scott Fitzgerald:   “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

Image result for f. scott fitzgerald

 

 

 

famous authors, famous quotesE.M. Forster:  “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”

 

 

Tapani Bagge:  “Everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  auithors, famous quotes, writersAnd later on you can use it in some story.”

 

 
Maya Angelou:  “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

authors, famous quotes, writersElinor Lipman:  “Critics have been described as people who go into the street after battle and shoot the wounded.”

 

writers, authors, famous quotes

 

Leo Rosten:  “The only reason for being a professional writer is that  you just can’t help it.”

 

Let’s see …..when were my worst moments?  DOUBT clawing at me, whispering in my ear, crawling up my spine.  Telling me that I’ll never make it, I’ll never finish a whole novel, that I don’t know the first thing about writing poetry.  Writing play scripts was relatively easy for me. After all I had been in theatre reading scripts for over thirty years.  And the stories simply fell out of the sky and into my brain when writing a script.

But other genre? 

When I could no longer resist the urgency of writing about the women who wait outside prison walls, I researched the length of the average novel; number of pages and words.  Yikes!  Over 300 pages and 70,000 words.  DOUBT was screaming in my ear: ‘you’ll never be able to write that many pages.’  ‘you’re a playwright; not a novelist’, ‘who do you think you’re kidding?’  But I had a true story (several of them, in fact) and all I needed to do was flesh those stories out.  Write one page at a time…or even one word.
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News Flash! Writer Goes to Prison

From stage play to novel was an incredible journey for me as a playwright turned novelist. In playwriting, you must tell your story in 100 pages or less, definitely in less than two hours and everything you want to relate to the audience must be conveyed through the dialogue.  In the theatre world, there’s a term: “method acting” which means you get as close to your character as you can.  If the character you are going to portray is a prostitute, you follow and talk to whores. (been there, done that. Honolulu, 1992 ) If your character is a woman who’s husband has been in prison for the past 13 years, you get inside her head or better yet visit him in prison.

I’m a ‘method’ writer, (every chance I get.)

In 1999 I had reason to visit a men’s DOC facility. (prison).  I was visiting a confessed murderer as research for one of my earlier scripts.  My writing has taken me to some unexpected places to say the least.  On a Sunday morning I found myself sitting in the reception area with three dozen other women.  Wives, sisters, mothers, daughters of convicted felons.  As I waited, I wondered how long they had been coming to visit; how long would a woman wait for her man behind bars; and what a terrible impact this must have on the children, visiting their fathers in this place.  Sitting there I was suddenly compelled to write their stories.  I tried to interview as many women as I could and this was no easy task.

Their closed society is cloaked in guilt and shame. But they finally let me in and I discovered, for the most part, incredibly brave and strong women.  They would tell their friends and neighbors, “my husband travels with his work” to explain the man’s absence.  Always appearing cheerful and strong while visiting their men, the women I spoke with, had a pull off down the highway where they would congregate (after leaving the prison) where they could cry, scream, and moan and be comforted.  Where they could share, with other women who understood, what their lives were really like outside the walls.  Away from the eyes of their men and the prison officials.

For someone who was so comfortable writing in the genre of ‘scripts’ this was a scary prospect. Yikes! I thought, a novel was at the very least 70,000 words and over 300 pages long. What could I possibly have to say?  One year and four months later I had a 335 page novel in my hands. Evidently my characters had plenty to say!  At times I was surprised and delighted with my women and their stories. At other times appalled. As many writers will tell you, at some point, the characters sort’a….no…they definitely take over and you become simply the typist.

I am hoping that my readers enjoy this journey and find some empathy for those women doing hard time outside the walls.
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A Good Writer is a Good Observer

A good writer is always observing and watching other people and their interpersonal relationships with others. Relationships are complex and rarely resemble yours. And of course…listening.  Everyone speaks differently, with a different word choice and a varied cadence to their speech.  This can translate to your writing and add another layer of ‘flavor’ to your dialogue.  

I also recommend watching movies or series to learn dialogue writing.  But, not just the ‘bad’ movies, poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted.  Watch the good ones too…ones you liked. 

I recently was binge-watching an older series, “Six Feet Under“.  One which I had loved when it was new and couldn’t wait for each episode to air.  I began watching for the simple pleasure of re-watching it.  But three or four episodes in, I began to critique it.  Especially the character of Ruth; the mother of the Fisher family.  She had a hot temper and I am certain that was ‘written’ in for the character.  However, the actor, (Frances Conroy) went from 0 to 10 when the script called for  temper.  There was no layering.  At first I blamed the writing…then the director.  My final analysis was that the

 writing (without seeing the script) was hardly at fault. Or maybe a little bit not having enough blocking written in. Don’t forget, emotion can be written as part of the blocking. 

Then I laid some blame at the director’s feet for not noticing that his actor had only two levels; calm and yelling. And the yelling came out of the blue and was all the same.  Why didn’t the director catch this?  Well, he did have a huge cast to direct and watch over. So mostly the responsibility lay with the lazy actor. An actor who wants to get as much as possible out of a part would look for those layers, subtle though they may be. Ed O’Ross (Nikolai, the fiery Russian florist) was excellent at layering his character’s emotions.  

No script or production is perfect. You can watch ANYTHING and learn from it.  Same with reading. I’ll give you an example; when I noticed a couple of authors using the same word or phase over and over in their work of fiction, I realized I might suffer from the same curse. My nemeses is the word ‘just‘.  My guard dog is the feature (in any word processing platform) ‘find’ or ‘replace’ and I use it to root out the 300 times I used ‘just’. (hahaha)

If you’re a screen writer, visuals are more important than diaglogue.  Your blocking can include the silent dialogue. Write in the non-verbal speech of an actor.  In ‘Six Feet Under‘, actor, Lauren Ambrose (Claire) and Jeremy Sisto (Billy) were superb with their non-verbal dialogue, using facial and eye expressions and body language. This credit I give to the director and the excellent actors.  

When writing stage plays the playwright should keep ‘action’ simple. Write some emotional blocking in but always remember the director is going to have their own thoughts about how the scene should go.  Be careful not to do the director’s job for them.  It won’t be appreciated.  

If you are a screenwriter or writing fiction you probably think you have no interest in theatre.  One of your best sourses to learn about writing dialogue is the theatre.  Live stage plays are the Mecca of good or bad dialogue.  Go there, observe and learn! 

Another link on the subject of over-usage of words.
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New 10 minute Play for Teens

This is my newest 10 minute play for teens and the classroom.

Synopsis: What does a girl do when her best friend’s boyfriend hits on her?
Teen breakups are messy. Most teens haven’t done it very often and they consistently get it wrong. If Rob wants to be with Kelly, she has some rules about that happening. After all, Rob’s soon-to-be ex-girlfriend is Kelly’s best friend.
1 m. 3 f.

 

This new play is part of a series, ‘Short N’ Small’.   Over 30 short plays, wonderful for the classroom.  No sets, no costumes, no props.
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Monday Motivation for Writers! #30

Pride Yourself on Your Great Dialogue!

Definition: the conversational element of literary or dramatic composition

I’ve often wondered if authors whom I’ve read, like Edna Ferber, wrote pages and pages of narrative/description because they never mastered the art of dialogue. Hmmm.

I got lucky because I began my writing career by writing stage plays. And they are nothing but dialogue. So early on I learned from, not only writing plays but, reading plays…thousands of them over the years.

To be good at it, I think one of the tricks is to write more and more dialogue and then write some more. You have to be able to get in that character’s head. What do they ‘sound’ like? Is their grammar messy? The character who hails from the Bronx, for example, is going to cut off words such as: walkin’, talkin’, eatin’, and so forth. There will be more idioms (such as ‘grill’, ‘to front’, ‘rachet’, ‘na’mean, and ‘spaz’)  than a person who was raised in a household where grammar and diction were more valued. You have to be able to switch characters and write ‘flavor’ into their speech. How would an eastern Indian, whosewriting, create, write, blog, authors
first language is not English, ‘sound’?  Now write it that way.  How would a southern ‘sound’? Be careful, people from Charleston, S.C. sound totally different from people in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Now, go back over your story and focus on how each character sounds. Is one character’s grammatical habits spilling over into another? Once in awhile I will read over my dialogue and suddenly one of my characters ‘sounds’ like me but they’re not anything like me. I let my own idioms slide right into my character’s mouth.  It’s disconcerting because it’s so easy to do. When you’re out and about listen to other people’s speech patterns, idioms and speech habits.

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L.Doctorow

“People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.” Logan Pearsall Smith
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Monday Motivation for the Writer! #26

Writers, we are all guilty of using particular words or phrases far too frequently!!  

I was recently reading a delightful series by an author but it was very distracting when she used the same phrase over and over.
“Custom glass workroom”.  The shop where the story takes place is just four rooms so it is my opinion that:

1] the author needed to change it up; There is an office, a retail room, a classroom and a custom workshop.  Just a little chance would make all the difference. For example:  ‘the workroom’  and  ‘the workshop’  and ‘the specialty glass room’. 

2]readers are smart and we should never underestimate their ability to follow along. If they can’t then we, as the writers, have failed at our job.
3] If we miss our idiosyncrasies, and we all have them, then the editor, beta reader, proofreader, etc., should catch it.

My most common ones are the words, ‘just’ and ‘that’My watchdog, first defense, is to use Word’s ‘find’.  Then I review the manuscript looking for when I overuse the words and why.

“There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.” Anthony Trollope

“All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.”  P.D. James

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Monday Motivation for the Writer! #24

HATS! This morning was typical…as an indie author. Wearing many, many hats!  There’s a hat for writer, blogger; one for editor, proofreader, and publisher.

  Check emails for that BIG break!  A Hollywood film Co. wants to make my book into a movie, a ‘big-name’ Publisher stumbled across my novels and wants to publish me. 
                                                                         Nope! Not yet! 

Next, Edit and proof the short play I’m working on….rewrites,  rewrites, rewrites, rewrites,….did I say rewrites?  Submit edited play to my publishing platform and wait for the proof to be approved or for more changes.

Work on my book of poetry and get it launched onto Amazon.com

Work on postings for my Blog. This is a job that doesn’t go away if you want to be considered someone with ‘viable content‘ by search engines. 

and after all those chores are complete…..Do some creative writing….never neglect this!  Write Every Day!! Also found time to write 10,000+ words of book #12 in a true crime series.

“I’m not saying all publishers have to be literary, but some interest in books would help.”~~ A.N. Wilson

“Contrary to what many of you may imagine, a career in letters is not without its drawbacks – chief among them the unpleasant fact that one is
frequently called upon to sit down and write.”~~Fran Lebowitz

                                               “Writing is Not a Calling.  It’s a Doing!” Trisha Sugarek
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 June: Laila Ibrahim

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Monday Motivations for the Writer! #17

TS. My friend and best-selling author, Jodi Thomas, did me the honor of contributing to Monday Motivations.

‘The hardest thing a writer does each day is sitting down to work.  In 28 years as a working writer, I’ve published 45 books and 13 novellas.  The hardest thing wasn’t learning to write but learning to manage time. I picked up a few tricks but it is still the dragon I fight every day.

Jodi.photo (Small)
Jodi Thomas

Build your nest.  I find this makes it easy for me to step into fiction.  It doesn’t matter if your nest is in a secret room in the attic or a small desk in a hotel room. It needs to be your nest. I usually start with a notebook. 

My facts book, my bible for the series.  It includes all characters’ names and basic facts.  Maps of the area—if you’re making up a town, make up the map.’ ~~Jodi Thomas

‘Peace and rest at length have come, All the day’s long toil is past; And each heart is whispering “Home, Home at last!‘- Thomas Hood

Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.’- Robert Frost
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The Guyer Girls will open soon in the Black Hills of South Dakota

The Black Hills Community Theatre of Rapid City, South Dakota is opening performance dates for my play, The Guyer Girls, beginning March 31st.  

 

Writing down my memories of my mother telling me these wild stories about herself and her four sisters when they were teenagers in the 1920s in a tiny town

Mama, Violet, Gladys, Ivah, Youngest sisters

in the Pacific Northwest was a joyful trip down memory lane and a perfect genre to preserve her stories.  When I was a child, thankfully, I knew all of my aunties as older women. It’s a special event when I am notified by Samuel French, my publisher, that this particular play has been licensed to produce by a theatre group.

Synopsis:

Critics have described The Guyer Girls as a cross between Little Women and I Remember Mama. From the opening moments when Ivah cuts Violet’s eyebrows off, this story romps through the sibling antics and rivalry of a large family. The first act takes place as the young teenage girls are growing into lovely women.

The five sisters grown: (left>right) LaVerne, Violet, Gladys, Ivah and Lillias.

 

(left>right) Tish Evans as LaVerne, Carol Cameron as Violet, LaRee Mayes as Mama, Wendy Lowe as Lillas, and Marilyn Hovland as Ivah

In a series of family stories set in the 1920s, we enjoy the girls’ hilarious pranks, antics, joys and humiliations. There is laughter in abundance. Tears, love, and sibling rivalry as these four delightful sisters grow up under the guidance of their matriarch, ‘Mama’. A prestigious marriage, a female pro-basketball player, and a run away to Alaska, these young women couldn’t be more diverse. Fast forward to the 1940s. The sisters are adults, starting their own families and Pearl Harbor has just been attacked.

The Guyer Girls are the children of Sophia and Levi Guyer who migrated to America and then moved out west. The stage play is a rich tapestry of an American family spanning three decades and based upon the true story of the Guyer family. 4f.
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Monday Motivations for the Writer! #16

Why momentum is more important than quality. Blasphemy, right? Wrong. Momentum is more important, in this writer’s opinion, than quality.

The writer with momentum is an author who is MOVING FORWARD.  Writing every day, six or seven days a week, if only a page or two a day.

The writer who is so stuck on ‘quality’ that they have only written one book in their life time, and they are still writing it, is the writer who is not moving forward or growing.  If you only write one or two words a day, your manuscript is moving forward.

Many writers, who believe a,s I do, say that if you leave a project for a month, six months, a year, it is likely that you will never go back to it. And during that time the doubt creeps in: “who do I think I am?” “I’ll never be a great writer.”  “I’m no good at this.” “My mother was right, I’ll never amount to anything….” “how good could I possibly be?” “I should go get a day job.” “How dare I?”

Remember, Quality gets layered in, draft by draft. Some newbie writers think that the first draft should be perfect. Sorry, that’s simply not the case. You’ve heard me say over and over:  ‘that’s what rewrites are for.’
Quality is a multi-draft proposition. Momentum is the only thing that will get you a FIRST DRAFT!

Write until it becomes as natural as breathing. Write until NOT writing makes you anxious.” Unknown

The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” Anais Nin

When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” Brene Brown
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Watch for more interviews with authors.  December: Marc Cameron, writing for TOM CLANCY
March-Apr:   
Joshua Hood, author of ROBERT LUDLUM’S THE TREADSTONE RENDITION, April:  H.W. ‘Buzz’ Bernard, WWII historian

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