Tag Archives: Jocelyn

Finding Your “New Normal”: Writing Through Life Changes

During the course of your writing career you will inevitably go through times of major life upheavals or changes. It could be a change in your day job. Entering or leaving post-high school studies. Marriage. Divorce. Having children. Moving. Illness. And on and on.

It also seems inevitable that no matter how much you’d like to stick to your writing schedule during those life changes, you won’t be able to keep it up. You’ll have to take the time to experiment until you find your new normal when it comes to writing.

My latest life change involved having a baby about a year ago. During the first few months of her life was able to stick to a half-way “normal” schedule because she slept half the day. Not all of my other tasks or errands got done, but I took care of my baby and got some writing and editing done. Now that she’s a toddler, however, things have really changed.

For those of you who haven’t experienced raising a toddler, suffice it to say that they do not make quite time in front of the computer an easy thing to achieve.

So I’m in the process of experimenting what my new normal is going to be while we get through the toddler and terrible twos phase of my daughter’s life. I certainly won’t be able to find two hours in the middle of the day to write anymore. And I’ll almost certainly have to make sacrifices – maybe sacrifices of sleep to write late at night or early in the morning. Sacrifices of “free time,” giving up television or lunch dates with friends. I don’t know exactly what changes I’ll have to make yet before I can establish a new normal, but I’m going to keep experimenting until I find it.

Because one thing is certain: writing is NOT a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I’ll be a writer come hell or high water, even if it means a dirty house or hiding from my family a few hours every weekend.

What have you done to find a new normal for your writing after major life changes? Share your stories in the comments below. Maybe what worked for you will help someone else through a difficult transition.

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin

An Unnatural Act

Poet Mary Ruefle recently said the following:

Writing is a very, very unnatural act. Most people are out living—their bodies are, they’re walking and they’re talking and they’re working and playing and they’re interacting. Writing’s very unnatural because you are not living when you write. But at the same time, what a great paradox—because you’re all writers so you all know. You’re all going, Oh but no, no, I’m most alive when I write. So you are more living or less, we can’t use “more” or “less,” it’s just different. And this is the crux of any writer’s life. It is the essential paradox and question and torment and joy. Are you writing or living and what’s the difference and where’s the line and how do we divide those activities? …

I’ve spent my whole life thinking, Is this unnatural? Shouldn’t someone be parading outside my apartment with a cardboard placard saying, “Insanity’s taking place on the inside”? They really should, there’d be a point to it. And then, in other moods, I go, No, no, no, the insanity’s taking place out there. And I waffle back and forth. And this waffling back and forth, when you yourself experience it, it’s called life. And you are going to experience this waffling back and forth for the rest of your life. And whenever you do, don’t think you’re unnatural or broken or different. It’s life, and we’re living it, and that tension is life.

—Mary Ruefle, in conversation with Alice Quinn at the NYU Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, September 6, 2012. (Podcast)

How do you handle that “unnatural” tension in your own life?

I know that almost daily I find myself in conversation with family or friends or my children, and my mind drifts to the characters living in my mind and the journeys that they are taking and that often feels more real to me than the conversation happening right in front of me. Sometimes I fight this tendency, other times I give in. I haven’t figured out how to manage this balance between my inner and outer lives. At times I’m not even sure if I need to find balance, or if I can just keep on going as I am without guilt or shame. What helps the most is knowing that there are communities of other people out there who feel the same way I do and live in this same strange writer-realm that I inhabit. Because there is nothing unnatural about community. In fact, it might be the most natural thing of all.

Share your own thoughts on the subject in the comments.

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin

Writing from Prompts

Do you ever need a break from your novel-in-progress but don’t know what else to write? Or are you ready to start a new project but don’t have a good idea?

One way to break free from that kind of writer’s block is to write from prompts.

Never heard of writing prompts? Here’s the idea: someone gives you a scenario, an image, a setting, a line of poetry, a song lyric, a news story, a single evocative word, etc. Then you write a story inspired by that prompt—or by a combination of prompts.

Basically it’s a way to force your mind to break out of a rut by challenging you to make a story work when it’s coming from an external source of inspiration.

Prompts might only result in a piece of flash fiction (less than 1,000 words). Or even a single scene or vignette. Or perhaps a short poem. If you get very lucky, your brain might take a prompt or prompts and turn them into a whole potential novel.

For example: my current novel in progress came from three prompts. First, I was spending a lot of time in my garden a few summers ago, and I decided to write something that involved gardening. Second, I’d recently written something about princesses and wanted to try another princess story. Third, I’d recently completed a short story set in the Aztec civilization, and I wasn’t entirely happy with it and wanted to try again. Those three ideas came together when a blog I followed issued the challenge to complete a ten thousand or more word story in two months time. So I used the prompts: Garden, Princess, Aztec, and I started a story in a Mesoamerican milieu about a princess with magical powers over plants. Eventually the princess became a priestess and her powers became linked to her god, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I got a great idea for a story that I loved by combining three prompts from three different sources. I have enough material in my mind for several novels set in my alternate Mesoamerica, now.

So where can you find prompts? Anywhere. Do you have a Google or Yahoo homepage with news articles? Collect the most interesting and thought provoking ones. If you write science fiction, subscribe to scientific magazines or blogs. If you write history or fantasy, try subscribing to periodicals or blogs on history, culture, anthropology, etc. Make notes of interesting details from everyday events. Write down interesting lines from books or poems, or even snippets you’ve overheard from strangers in the grocery store. Do Google image searches and save your favorite pictures of places or people. You never know when the prompts you’ve collected will spark a new idea in your mind, or provide a needed break from an on-going project.

If you need even more of a kick-start, some writer’s blogs regularly post prompts. Children’s fantasy author Gail Carson Levine ends nearly all of her blog posts with prompts. Podcast Writing Excuses ends all their episodes with writing prompts, and you don’t even have to listen to find them—all are transcribed into the blog posts on their website. I belong to a prompt-based writing challenge Live Journal community: Pulped Fictions (one caveat—you must have a Live Journal account and apply for membership to view the prompts). Also, a quick Google search for “writing prompts” resulted in a long list of places on the web to find prompts to get your mind spinning.

Let me finish off with a few prompts of my own:




Use just one or use them all. I 100% guarantee that your story will be vastly different from the one I came up with.

Do you have a favorite place on the web to find prompts? Or a writing-prompt success story to share? Share them in the comments—I’d love to hear from you.

The Best of Writing and Publishing Around the Web: March 2012

This is a little late in coming, but here are some of my favorite writing and publishing links for the month of March.

Author Janice Hardy talks about how to use critique feedback in your revision process.

Author R.L. Copple asks the question: Can you rewrite voice?

Author/Editor Annette Lyon talks about how Shorter is Often Sweeter when writing dialog.

Author Sherwood Smith talks about Process Narration–or when writers inadvertently write their experience of writing into their work.

Agent Micheal Bourret and editor Molly O’Neill have a two part conversation on Everything you ever wanted to know about middle grade… and were willing to ask. Part 1, Part 2.

Agent Mary Kole talks about what sorts of character obstacles don’t work well.

Author Mike Winchell reflects on the author’s struggle to make time to write.

Author Juliette Wade shares some tips for writing action sequences, and starts a useful discussion on using and making maps for your writing.

Author Darcy Pattison talks about cutting up your story’s timeline, and asks: when are you finished with your revision?

Editor Angela James lists 10 things authors should know about Twitter.

Author Talia Vance talks about the times when Revision means Rewriting.

Agent Rachelle Gardner answers the question: What’s an Author-Agent agreement?

Author/Editor Susan J. Morris writes about Making People Laugh: the secret art of funny fiction.

Author Anne R. Allen talks about when an author should hire an editor, and how to avoid scams.

Author Mary Lindsey shares tips for how to secure online reviews for your book.

I hope some of these articles can be useful to you as you navigate your own writing journeys. Enjoy!

Finding Yourself as a Writer: Plotter or Pantser?

Over the past three or four years I feel like I’ve been on a journey of finding myself as a writer. I’ve been learning how to tailor my writing time and projects to fit my natural instincts, and sometimes trying to overcome my instincts if I feel like they aren’t serving me well. I’d like to share some of that journey with you, and maybe it can help you along your own journey.

Today I feel like revisiting a topic we discussed in one of our earliest podcasts, at the beginning of last year: Plotting vs. “Pantsing.” In other words, do you plot out your stories ahead of time, either mentally or in an outline, or do you write by the seat of your pants (a technique sometimes called “discovery writing”)?

I’ve experimented with both styles over the past few years to see which works best for my writer-self. For years, ever since my creative writing classes in college (no—I won’t admit how long ago that was) I’ve been attempting to write by the seat of my pants. I’d get a great idea, sit down, write a chapter or two, and get a little lost. Then I’d get frustrated. And then I’d think the whole story through in my mind until I’d figured out the most important details. But by then I’d be bored with the story or unhappy with the chapters I’d written and I’d give up. You’d think I’d have learned a long time ago that I’m more of a plotter/outliner, but instead I just decided that I needed to put up with a crappy first draft and push my way through it.

So that’s what I did—I started another novel, I stopped editing as I went, and I pushed my way through seat-of-my-pants style. But, as I wrote, I found myself making notes about things that needed to happen in future chapters so I wouldn’t forget. Before I finished even half of the manuscript I had a brief chapter-by-chapter outline.

I kept following inspiration as it struck—in true pantser mode—however, if my new inspiration altered the flow of the story I’d go through and update my outline before continuing. By the time I finished the manuscript and faced the daunting task of revising a manuscript that was written half by the seat of my pants and half according to an outline, I’d learned my lesson. I’m a plotter. I should have been a plotter all along. And nearly two years of laboriously revising that manuscript has solidified that realization. If I’d planned beforehand, I’d be done by now.

So with my latest projects I’m outlining and planning before I begin writing. So far my first draft of my latest novel is coming out more fully formed and polished the first time through, thanks to my outline. Even with some short stories I recently wrote, extensive pre-planning helped me churn out a more polished and effective first draft that needed only minor revision in just a few hours. The writing happens faster, and I’m way more satisfied with the result.

I think the key to this stage in discovering myself as a writer was being willing to experiment. I didn’t get stuck on the idea that I had to be a pantser or a plotter. I tried both ways until I found what worked best for the way my mind and my writing process works.

So don’t be afraid to experiment—don’t think it will waste your valuable time. In fact, it might just save you time in the long wrong.

Have you discovered whether you’re a plotter or a pantser yet? Share your stories in the comments.

Writing and Publishing Around the Web: February 2012

Here’s some of the great writing and publishing info I found online in the month of February:

Agent Kristin Nelson offers a five-part “talking-head” video series answering the questions on YA and Middle Grade fiction that she is asked most frequently at conferences: Fridays with Agent Kristin.

Writer Elissa Cruz shares an interview with editor Eve Adler on the World of Licensed Characters and Work-for-Hire in children’s literature.

Author Janice Hardy gives us a 3 part series on non-traditional antagonists: The Faceless Villain: What to do When your Bad Guy Isn’t a Person, There is No Bad Guy: What to do when your Antagonist Isn’t a Villain, and You Can Fight Mama Nature: What to do when Your Antagonist is Nature Herself.

Author Patricia C. Wrede launches an ongoing multi-part series on The Business of Writing.

Author Dean Wesley Smith shared an in-depth article on Pen Names.

Editor/Author Jon Gingerich lists 20 Common Grammar Mistakes That (Almost) Everyone Makes.

The Author’s Guild published an interesting article: Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory.

Author A.J. Hartley talks about Varying Sentence Length.

Author Gennifer Albin discusses MacGuffins: Using Them Effectively.

For those of you writing historical or medieval fantasy stories, here is a handy list of Medieval Occupations.

Agent Mary Kole shares 10 questions to ask when offered representation, and Questions you might be asked when offered representation.

Agent Rachelle Gardner lists 13 Ways to Impress an Agent and 6 Reasons for Writers to Be Optimistic.

Editor Alan Rinzler shares an article on Why Writers Need Agents: 4 pros weigh in.

Author Ruth Harris shares 8 Tips for Turning “Real Life” into Bestselling Fiction.

Author David B. Coe writes about Transitions and Chapter Breaks.

Author S.C. Butler writes about the problem of Too Many POVs.

Editor/Author C.S. Lakin shares thoughts on the importance of plotting in layers.

Finally, author Chris Eboch provides some handy Plot and Character Exercises.

by Jocelyn

World, Character, or Plot? Why do you read and write the way you do?

I once participated in a discussion where someone posed the question: why do you read what you read? Do you read for the world, the characters, or the plot?

In the course of discussion, someone suggested that perhaps people who are “world” readers will prefer genres like fantasy and science fiction, people who are “character” readers will prefer more realistic fiction, and people who are “plot” readers will enjoy genres like mysteries, thrillers, and adventure stories.

Obviously this is a flawed look at the nuanced ways people choose their reading material (or other media entertainments). But I think this idea does hold a grain of truth for both what people choose to read, and for what writers choose to write.

In my own entertainment choices, I prefer stories that employ a good blend of world building, character and plot. However, when I examine my favorite books, films and television shows more deeply, I’ve found that I’m willing to forgive shallower or less interesting characters if the world building and plots are really cool. On the other hand, I can also forgive plot-holes, weird time lines, etc. if the characters and world building are really great.

The one thing I have trouble forgiving is shoddy, poorly thought-out world building.

Give me a rich and engaging world, whether it be a fictional small town in America, the supernatural underworld in a big city, or a medieval kingdom filled with monsters and magic and if the characters and plot are at least somewhat engaging, I’m sucked right in.

So that makes me a “world” reader first and foremost. But character is a strong second place—the books, films and shows that I turn back to over and over again inevitably have strong characters to go with their engaging worlds.

So how do these reading preferences influence my writing?

Just as you might guess, I spend a lot of my time as a writer thinking about world building.

I’m curious if this pattern holds true for other writers out there. Do you write like you read? And are you a “world” person, a “character” person, or a “plot” person?

Writing and Publishing Around the Web: December 2011

Here are some of my favorite articles on writing and publishing since the end of November. I’ll be back with more lists in the New Year!

First up, a practical Social Media Survival Guide by author Jenn Reese.

Author James Alan Gardner provides some helpful guidelines for designing scenes and shares thoughts on scene beginnings and endings.

Agent Mary Kole shares Some Thoughts on Revision, particularly in regards to when to query.

Author Bob Mayer has some interesting comments on how to choose What to Write.

Author Louise Marley teaches us more about using Alternate History and Historical Fiction in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Author Janice Hardy shares helpful articles on Combining Scenes for Dramatic Punch and writing Slice of Life Stories.

Author Juliette Wade shares some insights on the current fluctuations in the publishing industry and artistic vision.

Author Ash Krafton shares some of the Numbers Games we have to play when writing and querying, and suggestions on how to use Strong Language to create a strong story.

Author Nathan Bransford teaches us how to Network Without Networking, and discusses How Art Changes With Us as we progress through our lives.

Writer Misty Massey opens a discussion on methods of backing up your work.

Author Elana Johnson shares some insightful thoughts on what she’s learned about herself six months after publishing her debut novel.

Author/commentator R.L. Copple blogs about what happens when Self-Publishing Goes Wrong.

Author Chris Eboch shares advice on how to Show, not Tell, Emotion.

Author Hilary Wagner shows off her real rejection letters and shares a message of hope.

Writer Stina Lindenblatt shares a lesson on how to write Killer Loglines.

Author Anne R. Allen lists 22 Things for New Bloggers to Avoid.

Agent Rachelle Gardner talks about Following the Market or Following Your Heart.

Editor Stacy Whitman talks about how to avoid using the trope of the “Magic Negro” when writing diverse characters.

Author Patricia C. Wrede talks about writing Too many, too much when it comes to writing plots and point of view characters.

Finally, author/editor Annette Lyon shares ideas on how to improve your focus when writing.

Enjoy the articles, and Happy New Year!

Writing and Publishing Around the Web: November 2011

There’s so much writing and publishing advice on the web these days that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here are the blog posts and articles that sparked my interest over the past month. Hopefully they will help you, as well–and maybe point you in the direction of some great bloggers to follow in the process.

Writer/editor Katheryn Craft writes about The Art of Chaptering.

Author Kate Elliot talks about using Fiction as Inspiration.

Author Judith Tarr wrote a helpful article on Worldbuilding with Horses: Basics.

Author and Indie-publishing advocate Kristine Kathryn Rusch posted two fascinating articles. One discusses believing in yourself as a writer when dealing with other publishing professionals. The other is a fascinating discussion about How Traditional Publishers are Making Money.

Editor Stacy Whitman talked about the pros and cons of writing in your villain’s point of view.

Writer Charissa Weaks posted two great lists of resources on The Writer’s Resource, one on How To Find a Critique Partner, and a list of Great Books on Writing.

Author Nathan Bransford lists Five Ways to Stay Motivated While Writing a Novel.

Agent Rachelle Gardner posted an interesting article on Authors and Book Piracy.

Author Patricia C. Wrede talked about writing your characters’ Reactions.

Writer Jan Gangsei wrote the article: Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Voice I Learned… In Drama Class.

Two of author Janice Hardy’s many great posts caught my eye: “Need a Jump? Four Ways to Fix a Stalled Story,” and “Hey, Who Said That? Polishing Our Dialog Tags.”

Author David B. Coe wrote about The Value of Professional Copyediting, and placed it in the context of traditional vs. self-publishing.

Author Juliette Wade gave us a Checklist for deep POV (in 1st or 3rd person!).

Author Marie Brennan talked about getting help from knowledgeable people (even ones you’ve never met before) while researching for your writing.

Agent Mary Kole answered that difficult question: Do Fiction Writers Need a Platform?

Finally, writer/blogger/lawyer Passive Guy posted a compendium of articles on Literary Agents and Conflicts of Interest when it comes to “assisted self-publishing” ventures.

Check back next month for another list of the best of writing and publishing on the web. And don’t forget to check out Writing Snippets weekly for more great posts and podcasts on writing.

Writing Snippets Episode 6: World Building 2

Jocelyn MC’s this episode again as we talk about the importance of World building in science fiction writing, fantasy writing, contemporary and historical fiction.

(about 22 min)