Monthly Archives: June 2013

Writers Supporting Writers

Hi, my name is Jocelyn, and I’m a burned out writer.

This is essentially an introduction that I could use at every one of my writing group meetings, and the other members feel the same way. Yes, we come for the critiques. We all need and value the critiques. But what I’ve discovered over my years of participation is that the support, encouragement, empathy and camaraderie are even more important.

Writer’s are odd ducks. We devote a great deal of our mental and emotional lives to people who don’t actually exist. Our occupation is solitary and often isolating. It’s easy to feel detached from reality at times, or frustrated that reality continues to intrude on our ability to flesh out the worlds in our minds. And then comes the frustration and hopelessness that sets in when we’re trying to sell the stories that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into, and we have to face the harsh reality that the children of our mind are now mere commodities that we have to pitch to potential buyers. Buyers who might not love them as much as we do.

If anyone needs a regular support group, it’s writers.

Though our group only meets once a month, it’s an occasion that I always look forward to and always benefit from. Before, after, and sometimes during critiques we vent our frustrations, air our concerns, rant about the industry and the challenges we all face both in our bizarre vocation and in our relationships as they are impacted by our writing. This chance to speak openly in an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance is one of the most valuable things in my life.

Because of our once a month schedule, we often have to look for secondary sources for more frequent critiques, such as online beta partners. But the interactions with online critique partners are never as uplifting or rejuvenating as those monthly “support group” meetings.

Even if you have several wonderful online critique partners, I highly recommend that all of you writers out there search for a local in-person writing group, or at least a few writers that you can meet with socially on a regular basis. The value of this mental and emotional support cannot be overstated.

If I didn’t have my group, I don’t know if I’d still be writing.

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin

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Networking

I’m a plant freak.  That doesn’t mean I’m a freaky plant (either vegetative or the spy variety) but that I love plants.

This week it’s strawberries.  Strawberries are interesting little critters.  They’re invasive, but sneakily so.  During the summer, under the guise of spreading out their leaves to soak up the sun, they put out runners that move into places where strawberries are not supposed to go.

They’re very strong and can survive things that kill other plants.  Part of the reason for this is all those runners.

The parent plant puts out runners not only to perpetuate itself but also because the baby strawberries send nutrients back to the parent plant once they put down roots.  In reality you have not one plant but a colony, all interdependent and interconnected.  If one plant grows in a place where there’s lots of water, and another is usually dry but has plenty of nutrients, the two can trade and each fill in the gaps in the other.

Eventually all those runners dry up, when the plants are strong enough to survive on their own.  

As writers we’re much the same, or at least we should be.  One writer alone has weaknesses.  I might not be able to see the problems with my plot, while another person doesn’t understand grammar.  Standing alone, neither of us could do what needs to be done.  Working together we’re both stronger.

I’ve also heard of successful authors who mentor others, who in turn mentor others, creating a support network that is seldom found in any other career.  Those sneaky little runners go out, feeding the baby authors until their roots are strong enough to survive on their own.

But unlike strawberries, those runners don’t dry up.  The network just continues to grow, authors helping authors through the generations.  

If we used that network to its capacity, the author community would have everything.  Like strawberries, we already have everything.  We just don’t know it yet.


Tips from Pixar

By Jocelyn Nash Carlion

I’ve always admired the Pixar movie studio – not just for the brilliant animation, but for their wonderful storytelling. Pixar films consistently win more critical praise and more awards than any other animation studio not just because of their technical expertise but because of their focus on telling a good story, and telling it well. In my opinion they not only tell better stories than most family films, but better than most Hollywood films, period.

So, even thought it’s about a year and a half old, I was delighted to find this list of storytelling tips from senior story artists at Pixar, as compiled and tweeted by former Pixar story artist Emma Coats.

Here’s the complete list:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Not all the tips will apply to you and your writing at this exact moment, but there are enough gems of wisdom on this list that something on it will probably resonate with you. Numbers 8 and 17 really speak to me right now. Which tips speak to you?