All About Masterclass: Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing

Nicole and I have been trying out Masterclass lately. It was definitely Nicole’s idea, and she’s the one who set everything up, but we’ve both been enjoying learning about writing from a variety of different people. The first Masterclass that we tackled was from Margaret Atwood and was all about–you guessed it–creative writing.

Today we are going to share our thoughts on the Masterclass so that you can hear a bit about what Atwood teaches in case you are interested in Masterclass. Or if you are interested in learning more about creative writing, like we always are!

Nicole’s Thoughts:

Atwood had an interesting perspective on short stories and how to start them. She doesn’t think about structure until she was about ¼ into her stories. She writes out her skeleton and then she goes back to add information to support the story structure. You put up the frame of the house and then go back to pick out the siding, color of the shingles, the size of windows and curtains, etc. Because to her, the story is what happens and that is the plot and structure is how you tell the story.

Atwood also talked about starting the story right there in the middle of the action. What is breaking the main character’s pattern? Pick one event that makes the main character’s life no longer perfect and that is the place you start. For then onwards, every action the mc does, reveals the character and everything the mc does, should build their character. They are there to interact with the events of the story, if you have a character that does not serve that purpose, consider getting rid of him or her, or maybe merge with another one. Characters should all serve a purpose, and their purpose in the story should not be wasted. 

Addey’s Thoughts:

I definitely think that Atwood had some unique and clever ways of looking at writing. She is, of course, an amazing and successful writer, and I don’t think writers can every go wrong listening to those who have made a career out of writing.

The first thing that stuck out to me when watching her Masterclass is something that Nicole also mentioned–a story needs a break in a pattern to get it going. In order to write something good and unique, you need to start from somewhere slightly off-kilter and different than the typical “pattern.”

Atwood also started out with the idea of never starting with an idea. This is an interesting concept to me because it seems to be the exact opposite of what I’ve always thought to be true. She encourages immersing yourself in writing and getting something on the page. Atwood says that is where your story/idea comes from.

So those are few things that stood out to Nicole and me in Margaret Atwood’s Masterclass. There are countless other tidbits of useful information for writers that Atwood weaves into each short lesson. We’re definitely still new to exploring Masterclass, but we’ll take you along with us and let you know what we find out!

Tackling the Writing “To-Do” List

Lately I’ve been feeling like there are so many things I want to write and read!  The creative drought I was experiencing at the beginning of quarantine (and, similarly, the beginning of this year) is now officially over.  While it can be sad and depressing to have no inspiration or motivation to write, it can also be overwhelming when the floodgates open and writing ideas are pouring in nonstop!

Because I’ve gone from one extreme to the other lately, I thought I would share some of the tips and techniques I have been using to make sure I am getting writing in but not feeling like I’m drowning in ideas with no good place to start.

Make a list of all the things you want to work on.

In addition to some poems, blog posts for borrowed solace, and a book idea I have been working on, I also recently started writing on Medium.  We are also in the process of finalizing the content for the virtual workshop we are having tomorrow (Seeing What is Invisible: A Mystical Writing Workshop at 7 pm MST in case you haven’t heard!) which involves some planning, reading, and writing.  It’s a lot!  So for now I am settling for making a list of things I want to write about.  Maybe it’s a phrase that comes to me that would be an amazing opening line of a poem, or an article I want to publish on Medium about close reading (English nerd alert) but either way, I currently have them in a running list of topics/writing starters stored in a chaotic Google Doc I created.  It’s not neat or organized by any means, but it’s better than nothing.

Pick one thing off of said list to work on at a time.

It’s definitely been helpful for me to work on one thing at a time and try my best to finish one thing before moving on to another.  Granted, that’s not really how writing a book works, so there are exceptions, but if I am going to start a new article or a blog post, my goal is to finish it entirely before moving on to another thing.  Same thing goes for poems.  There will always be edits and revisions to be done after I deem something “complete” (nothing is every truly complete for us writers, after all) but getting that first draft to a point where it is at least coherent and has a clear beginning, middle, and end helps me keep my sanity.

Read or write every day.  You don’t have to do both (unless you want to!)

Something that has bugged me a little bit about everyone being in quarantine is the idea that we all have so much more free time than normal.  Sure, I am at home, but I am still working full time (my workdays are sometimes more hectic and stressful than they were pre-quarantine) and juggling my normal chores and obligations.  Small group may be virtual and hangouts with friends may be over a Facebook video call, but they didn’t just up and disappear!  Because of this, I often find myself getting to somewhere around eight o’clock at night not having focused on my writing or reading tasks for the day.  I could spend half an hour on two things (I am a grandma and go to bed at nine o’clock most nights) or I could spend a really great hour devoted to just one thing.  My choice is to spend time on one thing!  That might be reading instead of writing one day, which is fine!  I am currently reading a book (and keep getting more in the mail to add to my reading list—they just show up.  I wonder who is ordering them and then forgetting about them… *It’s me*) and I am also reading and giving feedback on a draft of a story from Nicole.  Both of those things take time, so choosing to just read one day is A-Okay with me!

Take Breaks.

Most importantly, if you are jugging too many writing to-do’s, take breaks!  You don’t want to get burnout.  It is very real and it is very un-fun.  So take a day where all you do is binge watch the new season of Dead to Me (anyone else?  That show is absolutely bonkers and absolutely incredible all at once) and get back on the writing train later in the week.  It’s okay for your writing life and it’s definitely okay for your sanity.  You deserve it.

I hope these tips are helpful for you if there’s a lot of writing in your future!  And, just to shamelessly plug the workshop yet again, don’t forget to sign up for Seeing What is Invisible: A Mystical Writing Workshop happening TOMORROW, May 16th, at 7 pm MST.  Click here to sign up—hope to see you there!

“Pull up a seat. Take a sip. You can write.”

Whenever I give writing advice, I acknowledge the other writer’s anxieties and insecurities. We all have them. So, for advice and conversation—let’s set them aside. Pretend we are sipping lattes—or if you prefer, a bottle of your favorite brew. The first question—what about writer’s block? The second question—I can’t concentrate what should I do? The third question—how do I get inspired? The fourth—the almost, but not quite secret one—I have a disability, but I want to write—can I? Well, take a swig, because my answer is mostly, passionately, the same for every question.

First, writer’s block doesn’t exist. It exists in the mind of the writer—paralyzed by fear, by “I’m not good enough?”—negative thoughts. Throw those out and write with colored ink for five minutes. Throw in a peppy sticker. Doodle your character, maybe sit in the grass and daydream. That counts as writing! So, then you write. Question two and three—concentration and inspiration. Colored pens or fonts, colored paper, fancy journals, stickers, music. Everyone is unique and you have to find your individual blend. Recently, I had problems keeping a regular journal—I have kept a journal for over twenty years, so this was a profound problem. I found that I could use a “junk journal” and write daily. A “junk journal” can be made or bought—but I write on scraps, old bookmarks, coffee filters—all intended to break up that blank white page. I suggest breaking up the blank page for inspiration, concentration, and writer’s block! Beware, as we change, our needs change too. So maybe you’ll need a different cushion, different pen, new drink… I guarantee anyone can make it work and find their blend.

Now, fourth, the definitely not secret question—yes, if you have a disability, you can most assuredly write. I am Bipolar, have pretty much the whole gamut of anxiety disorders/attributes, and I still write. So, for everyone that confesses they have a hard time with grammar, reading slowly, concentrating because they are manic, ADHD, or are simply too energetic, get out your notebook. I couldn’t read for four and a half years because of a medication I was taking—it saved my life, but it took away a lot of what made me “me.” I couldn’t write or watch TV. But I could absorb what went on around me, got plenty of material, and listened to music. This means that there are ideas even in woe. I was taken off the medication, my literacy came back, but I was slower, had trouble with words, sometimes, I still do. But, I write.

We overcomplicate and belittle ourselves. My answer to this—as by now you figured out—is colored pens, magnetic poetry boards, grammar books, the thesaurus, the dictionary, sleep, and giving myself permission to write. Take another swig of that imaginary drink, look me in the eyes—be gentle with yourself. If you cannot write a page, write a sentence. If you cannot write or read a sentence, write or read a word. Congratulate yourself. Congratulate and reward yourself for every victory. You are a writer if you can pick up a pen or pencil, or speak into a computer program—if you love words.

Now, finish your drink. Pick up your pen—you’ve got this. Go lay in daises, listen to music, and write like the galaxy needs the hum of your verses—because it does. Write.

10 Creative Things to Do Every Month as a Writer

1. Experience Art

Don’t just go and look at art—feel art. Embrace art. Study art. Art takes hard work, patience, silence, a flood of emotions, or a lack of emotions, lots of time. Realize the passion, the technique, the sacrifice art takes. Writers can learn to walk on a painting, a character from a play can inspire our creation for our own, music expresses more ways to say things in beautiful ways like poetry, and every writer can learn something from art. We are all kind of an artist except we paint with words. Museums, concerts, films, and theaters are all great places to seek inspiration.

2. Evaluate Writing & Self

I don’t think writers do this enough. Write a list of both strengths and weaknesses. Work on these, value yourself as a writer, and you should always be growing as one. Track your progress. Keep track of how much or how little you write every day.

I don’t write every day, I write in large quantities, and then I revise. It is a part of my process. Find a pattern and a process and then track whatever you do as a writer, look back at the month and see what you could do for the next month to help improve or better yourself. Things like increasing word count, or what is the difference from night-to-day? Do you write more in the morning or before bed? Do you not dedicate enough time to writing, where-else can you pull that time from? Give yourself goals to reach as a writer and as a reader.

3. Write a 2000 Word Story and Cut It Down to 300

Revision is the hardest thing the writer must do. Writers either tend to go over the word limit, or under the word limit. This challenges you to have a start and a finish. To consider the power of each word. To pay attention to style, syntax, diction, voice, scenes, actions. Everything the writer wants to include and exclude. Pay more attention to the art of your words and the beauty of the story unfolding in a short frame.

Flash writing is very hard for some writers, and easy for some. But finding the balance between word count and style is a goal to strive for.

4. Write in Another’s World

Use the rules of the world to write in. This will challenge your writing skill, we learn best as writers when we are just starting out to write like someone else. To understand the language the same way the author intended for the audience. Do you like the style? The bare language? The overloaded syntax? The rules of magic? The world building? The stage to set the setting? The introduction to the characters?

I still use this exercise to re-emerge myself in language. To follow the rules of someone else, it helps me get out of my head for a while. It helps me get past writer’s block for my own writing projects.

5. Look at and Revise What You Wrote for the Entire Month

I write everything by long hand and then type it. I date everything I write as well. I hate revision, it takes me a long time. So, I write for two weeks, let’s say about 2-4 chapters, and then I revise the last two weeks of the month. I usually rewrite when I revise, or send my chapters off to beta readers and revise based on their feedback. I rely on my beta readers for different things, and I switch between them for different projects.

Looking at what you wrote at the end of the month, and then revising, will improve time management when writing. It will be less work when you have completed the project and when the time comes for edits and publication. It will help ward off the dreaded manual overhaul, I promise.

Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.

Benjamin Franklin

6. Find a Club or Go to a Meeting

If you look online for local meetings, usually there are writing groups and clubs around town. Join one or go to a few group meeting/hangouts. Talking with other writers will teach you a lot if you already don’t do this. I have a group of writing friends and we meet once or twice a month We talk about what we are writing, any new techniques what we learned and what to try, or cool books to read. We also beta read for each other and discuss each other’s writings to help evaluate one another.

Other writers will make you a better writer, guaranteed!

7. Start a Blog or Post on Another’s Blog

Blogs are great because they are filled with advice, links, and current topics of the writing world. Blogs do take a lot of time and work, I won’t lie. But if you are a serious writer, and want to learn thing and want to share those things with others—this is the way to do it. Consider starting one if you haven’t already. It will help build your brand as an author and a writer.

Otherwise, follow a blog by signing up for the newsletter. Or if you know someone with a blog ask them to be a guest writer once in a while. A blog can also help exercise a different way of writing. Have fun with it!

My suggestion would be to post at least once a month and with insightful material and topics to keep your followers and readers interested. A blog is meant to be helpful to other writers and readers, to give encouragement, inspiration, and advice. Be truthful. Be generous. Be awesome.

8. Listen to a New Song, Watch a New Movie, New TV Show, etc.

This is all about inspiration, creativity, and imagination. Write a prompt from a song title or from the lyrics. Use a TV show to write in an author’s world different than your own. Or a movie to spark a possible plot twist in a story you are writing, or write a trope used in the movie.

Explore a video game with one of your own characters. Instead of just reading a book for your pleasure, look for literary crafts the author used, and try to implement them into your story. Use anime for imagination. Write a short story based on the theme of the anime, or the daily life of a character, but them doing everything the opposite. Where does the story take you then?

9. Find a New Author or Blog to Read

Constantly expand your horizons as a writer. Maybe even try reading outside your favorite authors and genres, and explore other blogs. They will have tips and that can be unique to add to your skill set. Every genre has a set of techniques, and crossing genres is thrilling for both the story and the reader.

The tools you can add to your writing toolbox will always improve your style and story.

10. Write a to Do List for the Next Month

Some writers are organized and some aren’t. It doesn’t matter if your writing process is organized or messy, keep track of what needs to be done. Once you start writing a list, it may become overwhelming, but call it a master list. Take 3 or 5 things off that list to do every month. It increases productivity as well as positivity. Your brain releases endorphins when you check a box down, and it feels good to accomplish things.

Here is an example of my list for the month:

·         Revise chapter one based on critiques

·         Finish writing chapter two

·         Finish writing chapter three

·         Send both two and three to Amber for beta reading

·         Write and publish a blog post

This is an article from my blog on HubPages and you can click on the link below to read it or check out my other articles!

10 Creative Things to Do Every Month as a Writer

The Roller-Coaster Poem

So, what is a roller-coaster poem?  “Roller Coaster” would be a pretty good title for a poem, story, song, movie, anything (I’m a sucker for short or one-word titles), but that’s not what I’m talking about.  You may have read that title and thought to yourself “what the heck?” but I’ll explain.

First of all, I don’t actually like roller coasters.  That feeling of rushing down a steep drop where your stomach seems to be floating somewhere in your chest and your palms are cold, yet also sweaty, is not a feeling I enjoy.  I avoid riding roller coasters, but I love when a good poem is a roller coaster.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I love finding something unexpected in a poem.  This comes from a poetry class I took in college that completely blew my mind and focused on collaborative poetry.  I’m not necessarily one for collaborating on work other than to get feedback and exchange ideas, but this class introduced me to the beauty that is two different trains of thought colliding together (I suppose you could call a poem written this way a train wreck poem, too, if we are going with that metaphor.  But for now, I’ll stick to roller coasters).

This class taught me that some of the most amazing literary genius comes from unlikely comparisons.  From gangly language put together with lyricism, from opposite words being clashed together, from two divergent roads unexpectedly converging out of the blue.

When this happens, I like to think of it as a roller coaster.  When riding along on a roller coaster, there’s always some sort of hint of where you are going.  You can, after all, see what’s in front of you. You may have gazed up at the metal monster you were about to hop aboard while in line and memorized some of the curves and drops.  Yet, when those curves and drops happen, and you get that feeling of your gut being suspended in air, they’re still unexpected. You can’t prepare for that feeling, even if you have felt it a million times.

I like to think that the best poems are a bit like riding that roller coaster.  We’ve all read poems before—we’ve studied sonnets or been shocked by the vivid simplicity of a few lines of free verse.  We’ve all probably tried our hand at writing a poem. Some of us would call ourselves poets, and some of us thought “never again” after writing the final line.  But what separates poems from the “never again” category and the breathtaking category?

It’s the roller coaster of reading that takes place in a good poem.  I love when I’m reading a sonnet, but it’s written in the most un-Shakespeare like language I’ve ever seen.  I love when I’m drawn into the voice and lyricism of a poem only to have it change and morph as I go (…almost like two different people wrote it…)  I love when I’m riding along with a poem up, up, up and suddenly, the bottom falls out from under me when an unexpected comparison comes to life or the so-called plot suddenly jeers left.

Part of the beauty of poetry is that you can make those sudden drops and roller coaster turns.  Throwing in a crazy word that doesn’t make any sense can make your poem come to life in a way that it didn’t in the first line.  Not all writing can handle this change, but poetry can. Poetry allows for an obscure and crazy roller coaster ride—the scarcity of language in a poem leaves room for the unexpected.

So, try it yourself!  Pretend you are two different people writing a poem.  Add in a drop here and a curve there. Take your reader on a wild ride—and send us your roller coaster poem once you’re done experimenting!

Cover image courtesy of PixaBay.

Comparison: The Death of Creativity

Something I have been ruminating on lately, especially now that we are in a new year and I am coming up with new goals and new ideas, is comparison.  Comparison is an easy trap to fall into in life—she’s much more successful in her career than me, he’s much more motivated than me, I haven’t even thought about buying a house yet and they bought one straight out of college, they’re using their degree and I’m not—there’s a million different things that I think everyone is constantly comparing themselves to, even if subconsciously.

What I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is comparison with writing.  I am constantly falling into the trap of comparison when it comes to both my actual writing, and my writing life.  It’s hard not to feel discouraged when you see authors being published left and right and all you are getting is rejection, and when you hear about some of your writing friends who are halfway through a new novel and you are struggling to get through the first few chapters of your own idea.  Writing is hard, and comparison makes it even harder.

As with comparison in all facets of life, though, I am coming to learn that it’s the complete opposite of helpful.  Unhelpful isn’t even a strong enough word for how unhelpful it is (but hopefully you get the picture). 

Comparison can steal your joy—joy about where you are in your career right now (maybe it’s not so bad if you’re not focusing on where everyone else is), joy about your little apartment that isn’t a house, but is all yours, and joy about the writing progress you are making, even if it is slow going.

Most importantly, comparison can slowly kill off your own creative energy.  We all only have twenty-four hours in a day, so try figuring out how you can divvy up yours to include more time for writing, or reflection, or whatever it is that might help you move forward.  If you are spending too much time contemplating what you don’t have and others do, you are not going to have time to accomplish your own goals.

Constantly comparing yourself to other writers and other creatives is undoubtedly helpful.  It’s why we study the craft of writing in classes and celebrate literary giants who write so eloquently their words make you want to cry, but there’s also something to be said for what you have that they don’t.

It’s okay to be a little different.  It’s okay to search for years and years for somewhere to publish your favorite story and not be accepted by the more mainstream publishers.  It’s okay to never publish and just write for yourself—for the joy of writing. It’s okay to do your thing and find your niche and it won’t (and shouldn’t) look like anyone else’s, so stop comparing!

This is something I am constantly trying to remember myself, and it’s not easy, but its so important!  Don’t let yourself give up, and I won’t either. We are in this together and can’t compare our own journey’s.  Don’t kill your own chances at success—whatever that may look like for you.

Happy New Year!

We are posting this blog early this week in celebration of the New Year! 2020 is going to be different right?! Wink, wink, hint, hint… It’s what we all say and what we all would like to believe. As for the journal, we are always experimenting, always thinking of what could be new, what theme we want this year, what kind of podcasts to record, what theme the coming journals will have. Will print finally arrive this year? Will our digital footprint expanded to something new? Will we add an editor to the board? Are we (editors) going to travel to the West and see more of the United States? An entire year of 365 days, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes and 31,536,000 seconds is a lot of time that goes by way too fast.

So here are some writing prompts and cool ideas to continue for this year, or to kick it off!

  • Write a letter to yourself for the year 2020. Include resolutions, goals, or predict the future of where you will be, seal it in an envelope, place it somewhere safe, and don’t open it until the next year. Will you be right and have done what you wanted? How much did you change since writing that letter? You won’t know until Jan. 1. 2121!
  • Buy a large mason jar or even a photo box, and some paper and cut them into squares, and everyday write something that was good or bad, a joke you learned, a pun you heard, a book you finished, a mile you ran, a puppy you got, a baby you bore, a place you ventured, a new recipe you created, a person you were grateful for having in your life, seeing your life flash before your eyes being stuck in a public bathroom stall, a piece of wisdom you got from karma, that ho, a thing you mastered, a moment you learned, a person you decided you would hate until the bell struck midnight, or a wizard you met while on the yellow brick road of life. Store them in this jar or box and next year, open it to reread your year.
  • Cut a headline from a newspaper or magazine a day, store them in journal or book, map out the year that is and will become.
  • Write down a resolution, a habit to change, a goal that was a dream on a sticky note, place it where you will see it every day, and then do it!
  • Write down three resolutions on a slip of paper, but two of them are a lie. One of them you must keep. Keep this somewhere safe until next year, which are the two you won’t do?
  • Take a photo in the same place every day for the year of 2020. Replay it back, what did the year look like? This is a great idea if you have kids or puppies that grow!

To all you go-getters and planners, or those moving like me at a snail pace and procrastinating until my world dies, I hope you have a great year to come! May the universe sprinkle a little luck on the planet named Earth.

Reflecting on Writing

At this time of year I always find myself reflecting. As the year comes to a close, I remember what happened this year–the changes that have occurred, the growth I’ve seen, and just what, exactly, happened.

I know for many people 2019 was a tough year. I get that–I wouldn’t say 2019 was an overall tough year for me but it had a lot of tough moments. Some might say that 2019 was an amazing year full of exciting changes and joyful new experiences.

Whichever way your 2019 falls, I’m sure you at least wrote in 2019!

I wanted to take this post to encourage you to remember all the amazing work you put into writing and developing your craft this year. Maybe you were published in borrowed solace this year–congratulations! Maybe you finished a draft of that novel along with Nicole in NaNoWriMo this year–great job! Maybe you remembered to actually write something creative this year other than emails–good for you!

Whatever your writing wins were this year, celebrate them! As we take stock of what 2019 was for each and every one of us, don’t forget writing in your end of year review, too.

I know one of things I feel most accomplished about this year is my writing. I feel like I’ve finally figured out what my voice is when it comes to poetry, and I’m so glad for that! I published several pieces this year–poetry, nonfiction, and more. Even though right now I’m writing while I’m not writing (more about that here), I know that progress was made this year, however small.

So even if 2019 was a terrible year for you, take stock of the writing accomplishments you made this year–little and large. I’m sure you are better off than you know…

A Writing Update

Hi writing folks!

This week has been terrible for me as I have a horrible cold and I am going through training classes with my puppy! We only lasted three classes and then we were kicked out. German Shepherds are known to bark, and my boy has a deep and super loud bark. Too much for the trainers there to handle. Nothing stops him from barking, so here I go finding another place who can help. So with that being said, to calm myself, I have been writing. I am pretty steady at 1,000 words a day, which they recommend 1,600 a day to stay on top. So, some days I go over, and some I am under. Right now I am at 14,000 words.

I have been working on this novel. I started with the idea from a short story in college, a story that most of my classmates thought was a part of novel when it wasn’t back then…not yet. But the writing idea I had was to imagine if one day you woke up with your grandmother by your side telling you to take over the family business…the business of being a grim reaper. I actually got ripped apart for that story in class, so I came back with a different version of how to become a grim reaper. I am nineteen chapters in and I am so ready for the novel to be written and over.

My tip (and struggle) is to keep writing, you can always edit later. Only stop to fix corrections of words from typing fast—because those pesky red lines are so distracting—but keep going. Just get it on paper. Get it done. You can do it.

And here’s a photo of Thunder because having him close helps too! He is as black as Grim.

So now a bit from Addey on how she has been making out (spoiler from Addey–it’s nowhere near as good as Nicole has been doing!)

Nicole challenged me to also try to write this month.  I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with lots of random other things on my to do list, so writing has fallen to the wayside a bit, but the idea of so many others around the world using November as their excuse to write like crazy has inspired me to at least try to write more for this month—even if it’s not 1,000 words a day.

I have also been working on an idea for a novel that I have written and re-written again and again.  It’s an idea that came from a German movie I watched in a class in college.  It’s a source of pretty random inspiration, but so far everyone I have talked to about the plot line and story idea think it’s a great idea, and something unique.  That’s part of the battle in and of itself when it comes to writing—getting the idea just perfect—so I am rolling with it.

My issue was that when I have had the first several chapters critiqued I have been told time and time again that the beginning just wasn’t grabbing the reader.  I didn’t have a good beginning.  So I think I was putting off working on the idea anymore because I didn’t know where to start.  But I decided to tackle a new beginning—to start of a chapter or two into what I had before.  It meant cutting out a lot of already written work, but the book will be better because of it.  I think I’ve come up with a killer first line, too, if I do say so myself.

So that’s where I’m at.  Only a few chapters into my new version of the same idea, but better off than I was in October.

Are you taking on NaNoWriMo to the full extent like Nicole, or using it as inspiration to set aside more time for writing without an end goal in mind like Addey?  Let us know by commenting below!