Unlock the Muse – August 8, 2018

This week I will send my eldest off to summer camp for the first time. I remember going to camp many times as a kid and I loved almost every bit of it. But I’ve never done this before as a parent. For every experience, however, there must be a first time. Summer camp is almost a rite of passage, and there’s no time quite like the first time.

Your writing prompt for this week is:

Assign yourself a certain amount of words to write each day. Hit your target.

If you’ve ever participated in a NaNoWriMo event, you may have experienced the near-debilitating aftermath. For an entire month, writing is the central focus of your life and daily word counts are pursued obsessively. In the days following the event, the sudden release from the word count demand can have a negative impact on your writing progress. This week, give yourself that daily word count goal again and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be to the same level as a NaNaWriMo event. The important thing is to stay consistent, and to keep moving forward.

I haven’t started reading a new writing craft book yet, so I went searching for writing tips on the Internet. Given the theme of the opening paragraph of this week’s post, I decided to see what I could learn about writing beginnings.

Beginnings are crucial to any written work, but I think even more so for a longer work such as a novel. A reader wants to know right away that they are investing their time in something worthwhile. One blogger suggests these three tips for writing great beginnings:

  1. Have a fantastic first line.
  2. Introduce your main character as soon as possible.
  3. Hint at what’s to come.

It’s great, simple advice. You can read the full article here at thewritepractice.com.

Since we’re talking about beginnings, one thing beginning writers struggle with is style. Everyone wants to have a unique writing style, not one that feels like a copy of someone else. Some advice from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style:

Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than the mood and temper of the author. If the writing is solid and good, the mood and temper of the writer will eventually be revealed and not at the expense of the work. Therefore, the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none—that is, place yourself in the background. … As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger: A Review

For the 2018 Reading Challenge prompt #23, a book about time travel, I chose to read The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I had this book on my shelves already, so it wasn’t a difficult choice for this prompt.

The concept behind this story is fascinating and original. Niffenegger has conceived of the idea of time travel as a genetic disorder. Henry can’t control his travels through time. This story tracks his love affair with Clare, who moves through time normally.

The narrative goes back and forth through time, telling the story of Henry and Clare in episodes from their childhoods on up through adulthood. Along the way, Niffenegger reveals bits about each of the characters, building up to a conclusion that feels inevitable.

The Time Traveler’s Wife has a complex plot, that in the wrong hands could have easily become convoluted and confusing. Niffenegger has masterfully moved a story forward in which time doesn’t behave the way it’s supposed to. And she’s done it in such a way that the storyline has a natural progression.

It isn’t without faults. There are places where the story drags a little, and elements I’m not convinced were completely necessary. Still, overall, this is an excellent book, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in quirky love stories.

Unlock the Muse – August 1, 2018

Here it is the beginning of a new month. A good time for revisiting plans and tracking progress (or lack thereof) on goals. The summer is coming to an end and soon it will be time to resume fall routines, like school. The last few weeks have been busy for me, filled with necessary downsizing and important celebrations. Just this past weekend, I celebrated a 90th birthday with my grandmother and a 6th birthday with my youngest son.

I also completed Camp NaNoWriMo, reaching my goal of 20,000 words. More important than the word count, however, was the huge progress I made toward a complete story line. Now is a good time to slow down and evaluate where I’m at with this book I’m working on. I hope to make significantly more progress over the rest of this year, and it’s time to make a plan.

Here is your prompt for this week:

Go for a Sunday (or any day that works best) drive on a route you have not explored. As Frost suggested, taking the “road less traveled” can mean a fresh start in the right direction (and possibly some new writing inspiration). Be sure to take a map, just in case!

This is the perfect opportunity for slowing down to reexamine your writing. Have you hit a road block on your current novel in progress? Been completely uninspired? Maybe you’re cruising along just fine, but the words are starting to sound a little stale. This is the perfect exercise to clear your mind and recharge. Better take a notebook too, along with that map!

Chris Baty finishes his book No Plot? No Problem! with a chapter titled “I Wrote a Novel. Now What?” In this chapter, he gives very practical advice on what to do next – from taking an honest look at the book you’ve just created and deciding whether or not to continue forward with it, to tips on finding the right agent.

Baty warns the rewriting process could easily take up to a year or more to complete. It is a difficult and challenging process. And your novel may need to be rewritten not just once or even twice, but three, four, five or even more times!

The good news, though, is that the difficulties of rewriting are absolutely worth it, and that taking your novel from the rough draft stage to the shining, breathtaking end product will delight and devastate you just as intensely as the rough draft did, if not more so.

Here’s something to think about this month: How has your summer gone so far? Have you done the things you planned on doing? Accomplished what you wanted to accomplish? Take a moment to consider where you were at the beginning of the summer, where you are now, and where you hope to be by the end of summer.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!