Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Room of One's Own by Smoky Trudeau

Creativity is not a gift of some sort that you are born with. Creativity is a state of being. There is no magic bullet to teach you to be creative, but there are tools that can help you change the way you see yourself, teach you to view yourself as a creative being.

Creativity is hampered by a too-hectic environment that does not provide quiet time for reflection and introspection. It is also hampered by:

  • a sterile environment that does not feed the senses
  • demands for quick production of results, both tangible and intangible
  • harsh words from ourselves as well as from others
  • stress, which steals energy from our creative selves and damages our health
  • routine, which limits our range of responses available, makes us automatons

Space to call your own is very important, because this allows you to create a sensory stimulating environment. Virginia Woolf wrote an entire book about it: A Room of Her Own. So did Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From the Sea.

Of course, not everyone has an entire room they can claim as their own. But isn’t there a corner of a room you can claim as your private creative space? The size of the space isn’t what is important. It’s having a nook where you can be free to write, to draw, to make sculptures or collages or whatever it is you want to do.

My own creative space is tiny—only four feet wide by about ten feet long. In my space I have my desk and computer for writing, and a bookshelf with books on art and writing. I’ve got boxes of clay, paint, markers, bits of wire, scraps of pretty paper—anything and everything I find that might some day work its way into an art project.

I also have a toy box. Full of toys. Not cast-offs from my children—these are my own toys. And yes, I play with them, especially when I’m creatively blocked. Why? Who are the most creative creatures on the planet? Kids, of course! That is, before we adults drum their creative imaginations into submission. Playing with toys—being childlike (as opposed to childish), stimulates creativity.

Yes, my creative space is very, very crowded (especially when my 84-pound dog and two cats decide to sprawl out and squabble over what little floor space there is). But it is mine. And wondrous things are created there.

Smoky Trudeau is the author of the newly released Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of photos, essays, and poems celebrating our beautiful planet earth. She is also the author of two novels, Redeeming Grace and The Cabin, as well as two books for writers, Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside Your From Start to Finish, and Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing. You can learn more about Smoky at,, or at her blog on Xanga, You can also look her up on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Solitude by Chelle Cordero

small press review

What exactly is a “writer’s retreat”? Does it have to be a remote cabin in the woods? Or is it simply unbroken privacy and relaxation?

Many writers tend to be hermits by nature, at least when we are pre-occupied with a project – just leave us be. In this case a writer’s retreat can be anywhere we can work without interruption or stress. Yes, this may sound very unfriendly to someone outside of the writing circle, but writers understand this (occasional to frequent) need for solitude.

The other members of my immediate household are involved in a sports activity and every so often they travel away for a weekend – some time back my son invited me to join them on their trip to make use of the mountain cabin they would be staying in along with another dozen people; “Bring a laptop mom and write all day while we are out…” It was tempting, but I declined.

I adore spending time with my family, however remaining in a cabin (not air conditioned by the way…) where I would feel obligated to help with the cooking and cleaning and seeing my family only in a crowd (geez, even sleeping would have been separate and dormitory style!) paled against the concept of undisturbed quiet amongst all the comforts of home. With only the cats to feed morning and night, I had no other schedules to concern myself with.

The phones were ignored (a special ring that only family cell phones made happen) – I slept when I wanted to, typed at my desk as I needed to, ate simple meals without a lot of preparation – and I took relaxing breaks to read, watch TV or take a local drive. It felt like I was on vacation! Best of all I got things done and felt so accomplished. And when they returned we were all rejuvenated by pursuing favorite activities. We had a wonderful reunion.

Albert Einstein said “I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

There comes a time when a writer needs a brief respite from the day to day interruptions of everyday lives. Yes, we are stimulated by events around us, conversations, sights, sounds and even smells, but then we need time to just allow our minds to wander aimlessly, to ponder randomness. We do our best when we can retreat into our private little bubbles for a little while.

Are writers - am I - antisocial, eccentric, disturbed…? Or do we just crave a few moments in time to call our own?

small press review

Chelle Cordero is blessed to be a full-time writer and a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. She has eight novels published with Vanilla Heart Publishing, short stories in three anthologies and numerous articles in various North American newspapers and magazines. Chelle also teaches an online writing course available through Kindle subscription.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Writing the Novel by Marilyn Celeste Morris

A daunting task. Some people get discouraged just thinking of the time involved. I wonder if anyone ever asks an artist how long it takes to paint a landscape? A vase of flowers? Well, you don’t do it all at one sitting. It takes as long as it takes. My first novel, Sabbath’s Gift, took me oh, about twenty years. From concept to publishing. Life intrudes. But you keep working on it.

Okay, you have an idea for a novel. But you ask, “How do I get started?”

You’re faced with whether to outline or fly by the seat of your pants, or Free Fall. I vote for Free Fall. I believe outlines should be outlawed. Choose which one works for you.

The dreaded Page One, Chapter One: Relax. This can and will change a thousand times. Do something different. Write your last chapter first. Really. You'll know where you're headed, and you can even use that chapter as your first chapter and use flashbacks, if you're good with them.

Just throw words on the computer screen. Just get started;you can rearrange it into some form of cohesiveness later. My first novel was done on an old-fashioned typewriter, so my drafts were literally cut and pasted, then retyped. When I got my computer, I was able to put it all onscreen, and it was so much easier. The important thing is, just get it on screen. On a disk. Out of your head.

Describe your characters: Cut out pictures from magazines. If it’s a period setting, get old magazines and cut out the characters, or use the Internet. There are many sites devoted to period pieces. Describe your hero, heroine, villain, and peripheral characters. Give them quirks. (Tugging on an ear lobe; putting hands in pockets; biting her nails.)

Give each character a complete background, from birth to present time, where they went to school, favorite colors, siblings, their hobbies, etc. Even if you don't use them, you'll know them well, and that will sift into your story: For instance, the villain is a volunteer at the animal sanctuary.

Names are important. I heard a well-known writer at a convention once say: “Name your hero something you would call your dog. One syllable. Never, ever name your hero "Hank". It should be something like "Brock". Think of Cruella De Ville or Snidely Whiplash. You get the idea.

Your setting: When? Where? All the senses should be involved: Sights, sounds, smells. Be sure you know what you're talking about! Don't have a person talking on a telephone when it hadn't been invented yet.

Point of View: First person/Third Person/Omniscient? Generally, novelists use use Third Person. He or She. I have read novels where the main character is the first person throughout, and some novelists do it very well. But you have to be very, very good at that.

Tenses: Always use the past tense. Keep the tenses in synch with each other. Don't do: "He said," and "She answers."

Try to write as we speak. We don't say, "Do not," we say, "don't." There are exceptions, of course, if your character is using English as a second language and is unfamiliar with contractions, etc. A huge mistake some people make is giving the villain a stilted form of speech, with no ordinary contractions. “I will kill you” vs. “I’ll kill you.”

Dialogue and dialect can get tricky. Be very careful, especially if you don’t know the area lingo. Take NY vs. the Old South. Dialogue not done well can lead to some real howlers: “How y’all doing?” for instance, is incorrect when addressing only one person. It’s meant to include more than one person.

Please avoid this mistake in dialogue: "Hi, John.” “Hi, George.” “How are you, John?” “Fine, George, how are you?" If there are only two people speaking, the reader can easily figure out who is speaking.

Avoid too many dialogue tags: John said, “It’s over.” Jim said, “Are you sure?” John answered, “Yes, I’m sure.”

Show, don't tell: “His face turned red and he struggled to control himself as he stalked through the room." We don’t tell the reader the man was angry. Same with other emotions: She was confused. It’s better to write: Her brow wrinkled as she heard the words.-Don’t tell the reader she is confused; show it.

Flashbacks: Be very careful that the reader knows they're flashbacks. Use italics, or spaces, or something to break the current action. One of the flaws of "Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood,” in my opinion, was that I couldn't follow who was doing what, when.

Watch your language! Spelling & grammar. Don’t rely on spell check. It doesn’t differentiate between there, their and they’re, and other grammar dilemmas. Edit carefully, watching for those errors. Good writing is good re-writing. Then let someone else edit your work.

Don't let anyone else see your first, or even second draft. They are usually awful, and make sense to no one but yourself. However, when you finally turn it over to an editor, don't take criticism personally. What they will say is something like: “Chapter One needs to be tightened up a bit.” What you hear is: "Your baby is ugly and shouldn't be allowed outside in the daytime."

Are you ready? Now, do a one page synopsis (in present tense) and send it to a publisher or …Send to an agent. Be very careful if you go this route. If your only goal is to break into a major NY publishing house, go ahead. But there are plenty of great independent publishers out there, and I happened to find a great one, the second time around. Join a Yahoo group dedicated to writing and publishing and find out from other writers who they chose as their publisher.

Wait. And Wait. And wait some more. While you are haunting your email In Box, work on your next project. You do have one, don't you?

At last! You're going to be published! You do the Happy Dance. But wait! There’s more!

Writing is fun. Re-Writing is hell. Especially when someone disagrees with the way you wrote a certain passage. Editors are a sorry lot. After they lower themselves to accept your work, they send it back. They don't like your punctuation, your grammar, your ANYTHING. It's not personal. Do what they suggest, up to pitching the whole thing and starting over.

It's Published! You have your work in your hands. You like the cover. You like the binding. It almost has that "new car smell." You like everything, except it looks different from the manuscript page. Doubts set in. You're positive nobody will read it. And those who do read it wont like it. Your mother calls. Your friends call. They tell you they like it. (They have to.) Those in the business criticize your work.

You begin to wonder: Why did I ever start this? Remember: Criticism isn’t a bullet through the heart. Just think: You've done what other people only dream of doing. Who only talk of doing. Your "someday" has become a reality. You're a writer.

Marilyn Celeste Morris, Author
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