Writing Book Review – Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

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This writing book aims to help you take your fiction to the next level. If you know the basics of writing, it’s a great guide on how to do this. I found it practical as well as motivating.

Maass talks about the premise, stakes, time and place, character, plotting, POV, endings, and I love that it also discusses theme. In short, it’s pretty thorough.

Key take outs:

  • The great novel should sweep you away with unforgettable characters, and dramatic and meaningful events. The essence of a great story is conflict.
  • High stakes come from your own stakes in writing your story. An author who is fired up, or rather who fires up their characters as their proxies, stands a much better chance of crafting a spellbinding story.
  • Use exposition – interior monologues – in which there is no action to deepen dilemmas and increase tension e.g. irresolution and mixed feelings.
  • To set your voice free, set your words, characters and heart free.
  • Novels are moral. Say something passionately that must be said.

Score: 9/10 It works

Boredom, perseverance, growth & accomplishment in writing

IMG_0188Let’s talk about how to keep going with your writing, against all the odds: time, the miniscule likelihood of being traditionally published, the challenges of being standing out amid the ocean of self-published works. I could go on, but you get the point.

In last week’s post here, I mentioned business woman Beate Chelette’s quote on breakdown, breakthrough and breakout. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve been struggling with writing boredom. I know myself well enough to know that boredom comes from within me. It’s not an external thing that’s imposed, it’s in my head. I realised that something had to be wrong with my writing if I was bored, but what?

This has been my process of reinvigorating my writing.

  1. Realise that perseverance is not just willpower or resilience
    Persevering in your writing is not just a matter of  willpower (bum glue, making time, mind over matter), resilience (against rejection, fear and criticism) or endurance (it takes so very long to write and especially to write well).

    Perseverance comes down to loving what you’re doing. Research on the psychology of creativity shows that we produce our best results when we’re slightly excited, optimistic and seeking pleasure (not in fear mode). You don’t always have to love what you produce, especially first off, but you need to love the process; the story, words, creating.

    My main problem was that the feelings I had inside me weren’t being reflected on the page. My writing was reading adequately, but not as richly or evocatvely as I wanted. I was frustrated about the level of my writing but I had no idea of how to improve it.  What to do?

  2. Ask yourself if you need to grow, and how
    For inspiration on how to rekindle my love of writing, I began reading a new (deceased) author, Angela Carter. Her writing is intense, beautiful, transcendental. It’s not how I write or want to write, but her use of words is masterful. I realised I wanted some of that in my writing, which felt a bit safe reflecting the fact that I felt safe in my writing. I wasn’t pushing the envelope anymore and I was truly bored. (Aside: Reading is so important to being a better writer.)

    I explored some websites and ordered a few time-honoured books on the craft of writing. Why I didn’t already have these technical books is beyond me (der!), although I’m sure I’ve read such things in the past only I took what I needed from them at that time, which is not what I need from them now.

    From this research I worked out that I wanted to strengthen my style and voice. Ideas, structure and plot have not been issues for me so far (but every book is different). Next I found a free online course on style and voice. Wow! I spent just half a day completing week one, then rewrote the first page of my current novel adding in sensuous description. I referred to Carter’s work as a guide.

    The result? My writing group loves my current novel (unlike my last), but rewriting the first page has taken it to a whole new level. I received comments like: “It has a dreamlike quality about it now that draws me in deep.” Not bad for a day’s work!

    Since then, I can’t wait to write every day. I’m writing much slower, but I have a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment that’s been missing for a long time.

  3. Be determined to grow
    Perseverance in itself isn’t enough to be a good writer. It’s perseverance in a willingness to grow your writing that’s critical. If you read published authors on writing, many say they must relearn how to write eah new book. What is life if it it’s not change, and what is change if it’s not growth?

    Be willing to examine where you’re at and how you might improve your writing. Listen to your gut, listen to your critics. Open up and always look for opportunities to challenge yourself and grow. Stagnation is death.

    To stay engaged in your writing process and become a better writer, what do you need to improve? 

  4. Also, for inspiration and camaraderie, read this amazing piece
    Here’s a link to an incredible piece by writer Michael Ventura that I occasionally read during times of doubt called ‘The Talent of the Room’. It’s deep, brutal and real. In it he discusses the dangers of the (writing) room: the craziness, compromise and learning, the slog, the selling out and success (or is that really failure?).

“Writing is something you do alone in a room. The only thing you really need is the talent of the room. Unless you have that, your other talents are worthless.”

 

 

How to get your writing mojo back

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Perhaps you’re disappointed at not being published, or you self-published but the sales weren’t great, or you’ve been plugging away for so long without ‘success’ that you’re having doubts about this writing thing, or the words that come out on the page aren’t the ones you feel inside, or you’ve simply lost sight of why you’re writing.

The result is that you can’t seem to find your enthusiasm for writing anymore. It used to excite you to sit down at a blank page, it was fun. But now all you feel is dread. You start avoiding it or you procrastinate or you talk yourself out of it. Maybe you’ve given up entirely, or if you do manage to force yourself to write it feels like a chore, another obligation in your long list for the day.

What’s happened to make you feel this way?

Writing has become a negative experience

Whatever the reason, the end result is that writing makes you feel bad. Most likely, you’ve also lost confidence in yourself and your writing along the way. So why would you write if that’s how it makes you feel?

You need to get back to what you enjoy about writing to shift it back into a positive experience. Here are some ideas on how to do this.

  1. Let go of your expectations
    Did you set some goals, perhaps secretly, such as a deadline for when you’d finish your book, or when you’d have an agent or get published, or when you’d win your first writing prize, or when you’d be able to write like James Joyce?

    If you did and you haven’t met your goal, then no wonder you feel like a failure. You’ve set yourself up with unrealistic expectations. Need I remind you that writing is hard, really hard.

    Let go or detach from your goals and become zen about your writing. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the writing or the process rather than focusing on the outcome. The result is a side benefit, not the primary aim of writing. Loving doing your best writing is the only true goal. See what happens.

  1. Revisit the reasons why you write
    There were reasons why you first stepped onto the unpredictable path of being a writer. What were they? Write them down. Do they still apply? If not, are there new reasons? Write them down on the other side of the page. Be honest with yourself, but be careful push aside those doubting voices that counteract everything positive you come up with.

    On the other hand, if you’ve dug deep and can’t find any reasons why you should continue to write, perhaps it is time to give it up. But if that thought fills you with horror and a list of ‘buts I can’t because…’, then you have your answer. Read your list of why you want to write every time you meet the blank page, and watch your self-belief slowly return.

  2. Stop the negative self talk
    We all do it. It’s a fact that around eighty per cent of our thoughts are negative for reasons of survival. But how can we expect to create when we’re in a negative, fearful state of mind? Putting it simply, we can’t. The brain doesn’t work that way.

    When we write, we’re not in a life or death situation. So next time that doubting, fearful, critical voice tells you something bad about you and your writing, try acknowledging what it has to say, thanking it for its concern and then telling it you’re not going to follow its advice today as there really isn’t any need. Then get on with your work. Remember, you control your thoughts. Don’t let them take control of you.

  1. Get help
    Join a writing group (one that’s supportive and is going to give you positive, constructive feedback), hire an editor, read a writing book, work with a trusted fellow writer or beta reader, or do a course to help you get some perspective about what’s working and what could be improved in your work. There’s a lot of free and paid advice out there. Use it to keep moving forward. We all like to be challenged. We all need to grow. And believe it or not, we all like the rewards of hard work. Create a growth mindset, not a reward mindset.
  1. Create a positive writing environment
    I’ve talked about how to create a writing routine here. Schedule quality time, meditate or walk beforehand, go to your favourite writing place (physically and/or mentally) etc. so that you feel optimistic and excited about writing. In other words, make your writing experience as enjoyable as possible by setting yourself up for success. By doing that you’re showing yourself some respect and taking yourself seriously.

    This seems like a lot of hard work for something you once believed would flow easily from you via some muse. For most of us such a muse is a myth. The muse is really you delving deep into yourself without fear of consequence or expectation of reward and creating (more on how to do that here). Set up the best writing environment possible and you might be surprised at what turns up on your page.

  2. Perseverance – breakdown, breakthrough, breakout
    I heard Beatte Chelette talk recently about the challenges she faced before succeeding in business. (I do that a lot, listen to inspiring people to keep my enthusiasm fire stoked and remind me how much hard work is involved.) This involved a lot of failing. She said ‘success’ has a pattern: Breakdown, breakthrough, breakout.

    Perhaps you’re at breakdown, at crisis point? Perhaps a breakthrough is just around the corner. Success (meaning growth) depends on perseverance, which is resilience in the face of failure and adversity. If you give up now, you may never know. You have a choice. Over to you and the best of luck.