writer

My Love Affair with Writing

I am often confronted by the question, ‘why do I write?’ and I don’t feel the answer is one that is easily put into words. Yet, despite not having an easy answer to this question, I know for certain that I have to write. I would feel incomplete without it.

So why is that?love-of-writing.jpg

Well first, being an author has always been my dream. I remember as a kid wandering through bookstores and libraries, I would often imagine seeing my own name on the shelves listed next to my favorite fantasy and YA authors. There’s also the thought of wanting to leave something behind; to make my mark on the world. I’ve never wanted children, but I sometimes think ‘when I’m gone, who will remember me?’ I’d like my work, my stories, to live on after me.

So that answers the question of why I strive so hard to publish and reach my audience, but it doesn’t address why I chose writing as my medium or what drives me to type out page after page. I think the answer to that has something to do with the concept of ‘Flow’. I first learned about Flow in a university course about the creative process and I was fascinated by it. A term used in psychology, Flow is defined as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

A state of flow, otherwise known as ‘being in the zone’ can be achieved doing any task, but in my experience it happens more frequently when doing a task that you are good at, passionate about and interested in.

When in a state of flow, some or more of the following things are experienced:ca27d20b95c49679195e5c81f016ea1f

  1. An Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. A Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

 

As a creative person, for me, achieving a state of Flow is the purpose; it’s what makes the experience meaningful. I’m also a person who thrives on a sense of achievement or feeling productive and writing gives me that. With writing, unlike any other vocation, I’m able to purposefully achieve a state of flow and at the same time produce something meaningful that I hope to one day leave behind as my legacy.

So that’s my love affair with writing, put into words. Thanks for reading.

Why do you write? Let me know in the comments below and happy V-Day, everyone.

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Rita Monette On Writing in Present Tense

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Past tense or present tense, that is… or was… the question.

I’ve recently been researching the professional and non-professional views on tense in novel writing.

Why, you might ask? I am almost to the finish line of a YA novel I have been working on for…let’s say six years. I first wrote it in past tense, which is my usual way of writing. Then about half way through, for some unknown reason, I thought it would sound better in present tense. So I rewrote it. Now that I’m almost done, I’ve begun to see articles about the pitfalls of writing in present tense, which I—at one point or another—have encountered all. Have I overcome the warning obstacles? We’ll see.

According to David Jauss, of On Writing Fiction, these are three of the drawbacks of writing in present tense.

  1. Present tense restricts our ability to manipulate time, in that it is hard to switch to past tense during the story.

I didn’t seem to have a problem with that, as this information can be brought out in dialog or in the protagonist’s thoughts.

 

  1. It is more difficult to develop complex characters. He goes on to say it is harder to build depth in our characters in present tense. He states without the use of flashbacks, we can’t know enough about our character’s past and he ends up being generic.

 

I accomplished this feat by using dreams or nightmares in the beginning and on occasion to let the reader know what makes our hero do what he does.

 

  1. The present tense can diminish tension by eliminating the knowledge of upcoming events.

 

I didn’t find this to be problematic, but I suppose my readers will have to decide that. To quote Carolyn Chute, author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine, “What we gain in immediacy, we lose in tension. Present tense fiction can create another kind of suspense of course—the kind we feel when no one knows the outcome…”

 

Other articles I’ve read talk about how annoying some people find reading stories in present tense. I have to admit, I have read some that I couldn’t get past the first chapter. It seemed too jerky. But more recently, reading This Night Sucks, by Elizabeth Walker, I actually didn’t even notice it was present tense until well into it, then realized how refreshing it was to read it that way.

 

So, my humble conclusion on whether to write your story in present as opposed to past tense, is that it totally depends on the story,  the way it is told, and perhaps why it is told that way.

 

I will include here the first scene here for anyone that wishes to contribute their opinion.

Excerpt from The Zone of Fear

By Rita Monette

THE DREAM

It’s late August 1990, almost a year ago. My dad and I are sitting in the seat of his Ford Pickup traveling a couple miles west to pick up my friend, Darwin, then on to the park so we could shoot some hoops. He decides to pull into a convenient store to pick up some cigarettes.

“I’ll be right back,” he says.

Dad’s favorite CD, Unplugged by Eric Clapton, is playing Tears in Heaven. What a sad song, I think, and push the eject button. I twist the knob on the radio, looking for something I can get into, when I see a vehicle drive up and park at the end of the lot. Two men get out and head toward the entrance. I notice them because they are acting a little odd. They stand at the door and appear to be arguing, pushing at each other in the chest. One of the men turns and stares at our truck for a moment. He says something to the other man, then they enter the store. I can see Dad at the register handing the attendant some money. I am hoping he remembers to get me the Snickers bar I asked for. Dad picks up his bag and walks toward the door. He smiles as he looks at me through the glass.

Suddenly, I hear three loud bangs. Dad first turns to look behind him, then ducks and dives out the door. He runs toward the truck, staggers, then gains his footing. Then every…thing…turns …into…slow…motion. The front of his white T-shirt looks like a large red rose opening wider and wider. He drops the brown bag he is holding. Then things return to normal speed.

I crawl into the driver’s seat and shift into reverse. I back out of the spot, then swerve around to where my Dad is stumbling and holding his chest. I open the passenger door, and he crawls in. I push my foot hard on the gas pedal and burn rubber, leaving the scene behind us. But we never reach the hospital.

I always wake up at this point…sweating…alone in my room…back to the real world where my dad no longer exists, and the truth. That I had sat frozen in fear…watching as my dad fell to the dirty pavement. It’s the last thing I can remember of that day or for days afterward. I tell myself that I was only thirteen at the time, and no one could possibly

expect me to drive Dad’s truck. It doesn’t help. I could have.

Rita-studio pic cropped-cropped

 

 

Rita Monette is our featured author this month and her newest book, The Secret in Mossy Swamp, launches September 17th!! You can pre-order this installment in the Nikki Landry Series, written and illustrated by Rita, for only $0.99 with the promo code: LEGEND.

If you want to know more about Rita, please check out her website: www.ritamonette.com

The World Outside of your Comfort Zone

Us readers, writers and artists have a tendency to live inside of our own heads. This can sometimes lead to feeling isolated or creatively stagnant. If left long enough in this state, we simply run out of ideas, or the motivation to be creative.Around-the-World

In university I took a course called ‘The Creative Process’ meant to teach creative people how to overcome ‘writer’s block’ or whatever you choose to call it, depending on your discipline. Something I learned from this course is the value of new experiences. The easiest and most effective cure for feeling stuck or stagnant is to get out into the world and experience something new.

Back in university, we called these “Artist Dates”. As a part of our ‘twelve-week program’ to getting over writer’s block we were told to take ourselves out on a date once a week. These dates had a couple of rules:

  1. You must go alone
  2. You must do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do
  3. You must do something different each time and…
  4. You must make the best of it

The word ‘date’ is kind of misleading. This isn’t taking yourself out to a dinner and a movie, unless that’s something you don’t usually do on your own and you’d like to give it a try. It’s simply referring to doing something for your creative self and with your creative self. Some examples of things I did and that you can try are:

  1. Hop on a bus and see where it takes you
  2. Go to the dollar store, buy $5 worth of crafting supplies and see what you can make
  3. Try a new discipline. If you’re a writer, paint and if you’re a painter, try poetry or music.
  4. Go for a hike, or swimming, or find a beach.

07bcdcc12df687f02e58c2def519f9a9I don’t go on Artist Dates regularly anymore, but every once and awhile I will make time to nurture my inner artist by stepping out of my comfort zone and experiencing the world. For example, last night I attended a life drawing class put on by Sho: Art, Spirit and Performance. I went by myself, tried something I’ve never done before, and had an experience that I can later hopefully draw from in some creative way. Best of all, I got out of my own head for the evening.

Have you ever taken yourself out on an Artist Date? Would you try it? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

How to write a strong opening

Openings are hard, but they are so crucial to get right. I’ll confess that I’ve had my share of trouble with them over the years. Typically, my way of dealing with them is to pay no more attention to them than I do the rest of the book, then return to them once I’ve completed the manuscript and re-work them while I’m tackling the second draft. This technique though is a lot like building the frame of a house and then worrying about trying to shore up the foundation, which seems a lot like the wrong way to do things.

So this time, I’m doing things a little differently. I’ve been working on a new project (forgive me if I’m sparse on the details, but I’ve only just started and I don’t like to share things until I’m sure they’re going to be things, if you know what I mean.) But for this project I’m working on perfecting the beginning first before I keep going with the rest of the manuscript. The reasoning behind this approach is simple. The opening is meant to draw readers in, so I figure when I get it right, the opening will make me want to keep writing.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

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  1. Where the scene opens

You’ve all heard the advice, I’m sure; start in medias res, the middle of the action. But that doesn’t always mean starting in the middle of a gunfight, or even in a high point of tension. It can mean that, but it certainly doesn’t have to. What you need to consider is: where does your story start? What is the inciting incident that sets things in motion and how close can your opening get to it while still covering what the reader needs to know to be invested in your story.

It’s okay to struggle with this. It’s okay to have a few false starts, or write scenes that won’t end up in the final version of your manuscript just to get some knowledge of the backstory and the moments that lead up to where your story opens. Just as long as you are willing to let these first attempts go and focus on starting at the point that hooks your readers.

2.  The opening line

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. The first line is literally THE most important thing you write. This is your first impression. It’s your chance to engage your reader. It doesn’t need to need to be long, or complicated. In fact, it’s better if it’s not. It does, however, need to fit the style and the tone of your story and establish the other two things I’m going to talk about, the hook and the voice, right away.

You’ve been told over and over again that you have to hook your reader. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have them in a vice grip on the first line, it just means that you need to introduce some hint of mystery, some form of a question in their minds that piques their curiosity enough to keep reading.

3. The hooklandor

I talked a bit about the hook in the last section, but now that you’ve got an amazing first line, how do you reel the reader in? The easiest way to do this is to subtly dribble out information like breadcrumbs, so your reader will follow the trail you’ve set.

If you’ve hooked your reader in your first sentence, then do the same in the second one, and so on, you’ll keep their eyes skimming along the page. This way, within a couple of paragraphs at most, you’ll have them drawn helplessly into the world and the situation you’ve created.

4. The voice

Another tough thing to master, the voice of your narrative is also crucial to the success of your manuscript. It can also work to be a great hook, drawing readers in. Your voice relies on your character. Either that of your protagonist, or of your narrator if your narrator differs from your protagonist. It’s the way you tell your story, what kind of language you use, the length and complexity of your sentences, the style, all of it. Nothing is more powerful a tool for making your story interesting than the voice it’s told in.

If you want a great example of this, I would recommend checking out Rita Monette’s Nikki Landry Swamp Legends Series, specifically the first one, Legend of Ghost Dog Island. Nikki Landry, a ten-year old girl living in the bayous of Louisiana in the 1950’s comes alive as the narrator as early as the first line. In the spirit of being helpful, here’s a link to the Amazon sample!

I’ve written the opening to my newest project at least four, if not five, times now, but I think I’ve got something great now. For your own opening, you’ll know you’ve got something to work with when you’ve mastered the four points above and can really feel the story pulling you in as much as it will pull your readers. Remember, you can always pass it by a writer’s group, or a friend with a critical eye who is willing to tell you the truth without being too soul-crushing about it. If you don’t have any of those handy, toss your first paragraph into the comments below and I’ll be happy to take a look at it for you!

And on that note, here’s mine:

The change came without warning, unless you count the rain. It pounded on the window of my battered Oldsmobile, demanding to be let in. I sighed, frustrated. So much for the Weather Network. Wrenching the rusted driver’s side door open, I was drenched in seconds. I scurried across the city parking lot, doing my damndest to avoid the worst of the puddles, though it hardly mattered now. The damage was done.