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The Writing Bug

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  • August 07, 2019 12:30 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)

     


     By Eleanor Shelton 




    June of 2016 I was accepted into a novel editing workshop in the Aspen Summer Words Conference. The faculty member for my workshop was George Hodgman, a former editor at Houghton Mifflin, Simon & Schuster, and Vanity Fair. He had recently published his award-winning memoir Bettyville.




    When I walked into the condo where the workshop was being held, there was a pudgy man with a large face, wrapped in a leopard blanket. He didn’t talk to the six of us right away, but looked at us, even through us. A wave of discomfort fell on the room. What had we gotten into.

    “Well, here we are, aren’t we?” he said in a Missouri-drawl that held both irony and sarcasm.

    That week George was grumpy, sweet, hilarious, and erudite. Once we got used to his unique look and thought process, we began to relax and really listen to him.

    Perfectly timed, dry humor was his schtick.



    “Well, here we are, aren’t we?” he said in a Missouri-drawl that held both irony and sarcasm.


    When I walked into the condo where the workshop was being held, there was a pudgy man with a broad face, wrapped in a leopard blanket. He didn’t talk to the six of us right away, but looked at us, even through us. A wave of discomfort fell on the room. What had we gotten into?

    That week George Hodgman was grumpy, sweet, hilarious, and erudite. Once we got used to his unique look and thought process, we began to relax and really listen to him. His humor was dry with perfect timing.

    When my assigned critique partner suggested that I should delete a death scene from my novel, George leaned over and whispered in my ear loud enough for the entire table to hear, “Ignore him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, this is one of the best death scenes I’ve ever read. You delete it, and I’ll be very irritated with you.” Then he wagged his finger at me like my mother might.

    He met with me for half an hour before breakfast so he and I could talk, just the two of us. He gave me thoughts on my novel, suggested a list of agents to query, and wrote me a letter of introduction to an editor at St. Martin’s Press he thought would connect with my work.

    When he got a text from his airline that his flight might be delayed or canceled out of Aspen, he leaped up from the table and paced back and forth, throwing his hands in the air panic-stricken that his dog would be alone. Who would take care of his dog for this extra day? His agitation paused our workshop that last day and as he called friend after friend to find someone to dog sit. His voice grew louder and louder as person after person turned him down. In his leopard blanket, he ran his hand through his hair as he marched back and forth.

    We just stopped and watched the drama.

    After the workshop, he would call me from time to time to check in and see how my writing was coming and offer advice and talk about challenges that he faced in his work, such as Hollywood’s on-again, off-again flirtation with developing Bettyville into a movie starring Shirley MacLaine. We also became Facebook friends. George posted often raging about politics in the nation and his beloved Missouri. There were copious pictures of dogs who had been abandoned and needed homes.

    Lately, his posts were one of two things: beautiful villages from around the world or stately homes or historic buildings now dilapidated and forgotten to time. George Hodgman collected images of vulnerable animals he couldn’t adopt, abandoned, and forgotten structures he begged people to save, and breath-taking scenes of places he would never visit.

    Saturday, July 20, George Hodgman took his own life. I found out Sunday morning, and the breath left me. I knew that he lived with depression, and I could tell when he was struggling because the images of sad-eyed dogs, Victorian homes with broken windows and peeling paint, and picturesque Italian seaside villages stopped. But the photos would always resume, and I knew he was back to himself. They won’t appear anymore.

    The images he shared with his hundreds of followers were a reflection of him: sad, broken, yet with hope.

    As a writing faculty, he took a little getting used to. But that effort was paid back a hundred-fold. His memoir was open, raw, humorous, just as he was. He will never know what his time and attention meant to me as an insecure writer, hoping that I had some work with merit.

    Meeting other writers at conferences and retreats is a precious commodity and I am fortunate to have experienced his expertise and mentorship. 



  • July 30, 2019 9:48 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)





    By David E. Sharp







    An Interview with Charles Dickens

    DS: It's time for another fake interview with a deceased author. Today, from his grave in Poet's Corner, we have the inimitable Charles Dickens. Mr. Dickens, you are known for painting the modern picture of Victorian England, creating larger than life characters that still capture our imagination today, and publishing your stories a chapter at a time in serialized formats. Thank you for being here today.

    CD: We are so very 'umble.




    To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it.

    --Wilson Mizner


    DS: Charles, you had a difficult start in life. Your father went to Debtor's prison, and you had to stop school and work in a factory at the age of twelve.

    CD: I know I do not exaggerate, unconsciously, and unintentionally, the scantiness of my resources and the difficulty of my life... I know that, but for the mercy of God, I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a vagabond.

    DS: Is it fair to say you were a reader at a young age?

    CD: Little Red Riding Hood was my first love. It is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected. Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time.

    DS: Agreed. A love of writing naturally follows a love of reading. In spite of your limited education, you went on to write multiple novels, short stories, and kept a journal for twenty years.

    CD: I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.

    DS: You were diligent. I must admit, I struggle to focus on one idea at a time.

    CD: An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself. Curiosity is and has been from the creation of the world, a master-passion. To awaken it, to gratify it by slight degrees, and yet leave something always in suspense, is to establish the surest hold that can be had.

    DS: So, perhaps carving out some time to muse on our ideas and let our stories have a chance to tell themselves to us is the best first step.

    CD: The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.

    DS: But you also mentioned punctuality and diligence. Can you speak more to that in the life of a writer?

    CD: Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him. Rattle me out of bed early, set me going, give me as short a time as you like to bolt my meals in, and keep me at it.

    DS: And I'm sure your chapter by chapter deadlines didn't hurt either. Well, you were prolific! But it's one thing to write a lot. It's another to create captivating stories and memorable characters.

    CD: There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.

    DS: Yes, there are. You are known for your characters. How do you set about inventing a human being?

    CD: A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. The mysteries of this machine called man! Oh, the little that unhinges it, poor creatures that we are!

    DS: Some of your characters are imperfect creatures, indeed. How would you describe their emotional journeys?

    CD: Life is made of ever so many partings welded together. The broken heart. You think you will die, but you just keep living, day after day after terrible day. But there is prodigious strength in sorrow and despair. The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.

    DS: And you were quite an advocate of children in your day. Due in no small part to your time working in a factory.

    CD: In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to, but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high.

    DS: You were also known for your dastardly villains. Shall we talk about those?

    CD: If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.

    DS: How do you make a good villain?

    CD: Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!

    DS: I believe Shakespeare said something similar. So villains may not be villains in their own eyes. How do they become villains?

    CD: We forge the chains we wear in life. Pause you who read this and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerous thing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes no good to other people.

    DS: As for your heroic characters, they are often ordinary people with the power to form strong bonds with one another.

    CD: A loving heart is the truest wisdom. Family not only need to consist of merely those whom we share blood, but also for those whom we'd give blood.

    DS: Excellent. Do you have any other words of wisdom to share with our community of writers?

    CD: Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism, are all very good words for the lips.

    DS: Uh… Yeah, I guess they are. Well, thank you so much for being here.

    CD: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.


  • July 26, 2019 10:51 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)


     

       


       By JC Lynne









    It's that time of year. Temperatures are up, so perhaps are tempers. Motivation is low, so is our energy. Some of us are traveling or just getting out of doors but it's a truism of being a writer, we must read books. 

    A lot of them.

    You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. Ray Bradbury



    Piles of books. You know you have them as well. The Japanese have a word to describe this phenomenon: Tsundoku. The owning of books in number beyond your ability to read them. The Beard and I shared this condition.

    When the time came to merge our libraries, we faced a tough decision. We owned over five thousand books between us. Sure, it was easy to get rid of duplicate titles (we had many). Then we moved on to books we had already completed (some read more than once, cough cough, maybe fewer than fifty times). 

    And finally, because we don't have unlimited wall space, we had to figure out how to deal with our tsundoku.

    In A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle described a house transformed from a multi-stall barn into a home with walls and walls of books. To this day, I'd love to live in a remodeled barn. 


    One for fun. Three for research. 


    I'm veering. We all have those piles. And my annual Dog Day survey begins:


    I'll go first:

    In addition to the stack in the photo, I'm STILL working through Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. And work is exactly what reading it is. 

    I've just started The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt 

    I'm listening to Daemon by Daniel Suarez but let's just say I'm not in love with the narrator.

    I just gave up on The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. To be fair, a lot of people have been raving about this book, including The Beard but I just couldn't do it. 

    In my queue, The Fifth Season (Book One Broken Earth), Red Waters (Book Three The Devil's West), and A Gathering of Shadows (Book Two Shades of Magic)

    Brian Kaufman

    I've been finshing edits on two novels, so reading has taken a back seat. I can only mention three:

    Karin Kaufman's More Adventures of Geraldine Woolkins (my sister's read-along story book for children).

    Ellen Datlow's horror collection The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen.

    and for comfort (of a sort), I revisited an all-time favorite, Kent Haruf's Our Souls at Night.


    What are you reading? (click on the blue rectangle next to the blog title and leave your list in the comments!)


  • July 16, 2019 8:03 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)





    By Ronda Simmons







    Never one to pass up a bargain, I recently attended a free class taught by Trai Cartwright at the Old Town Library on World Building. I don’t write science fiction or fantasy, but since Trai was teaching, I decided to go because a) Trai is hilarious, b) she’s also an effective teacher, and c) I might learn something.

    And boy, did I!





    World Building isn’t just for sci-fi/fantasy. Any story we tell has to be set somewhere, and that somewhere needs rules. And for some genres, setting is much more than where or when the story takes place.

    With Trai’s permission, here’s the low down:

    There are three main realms of world-building:

    Physical – geography, cities, nations, species, weather, physics, etc. This includes specialized physics, like magic and supernatural phenomenon.

    Sensory – looks, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch.

    Social – history, politics, religion, culture, class, language including dialects and slang.

    Another aspect of your story is the fundamental 'who' of your character. Think about your protagonist, remembering that the protagonist doesn't automatically mean hero. Your protagonist is the character from whose point of view we experience the story.

    Questions to ask:

    How does your main character's position in society influence her motivation?

    Is she trying to fix her world, or defend it?

    Is she a champion or an outsider?

    What is the point of conflict? Her faction versus an opposing faction? Her society versus another world? Her versus a villain from within her own world?

    Like any other aspect of writing, for example, backstory, it’s easy to go overboard on World Building. Here’s how a writer can go wrong:

    Going into too much detail. You only need to write about the aspects of your world that are pertinent to the story. You might have worked out the genealogy of the ruling class, but unless it’s necessary, your reader will get bored and, GASP, stop reading.

    Now thinking about basics and ask yourself:

    What do they eat?

    Where do they sleep?

    Who cleans the toilets?

    Why is the ruling class in power?

    What drives the economy?

    Having an ornate society that has no connection whatsoever to the folks who grow the food/clean the stables/de-frag the photon torpedoes is just not believable. You may not have to cover the minutia, but some exploration can help flesh out your world. 

    Putting more effort into world-building than in telling a good story. Only Tolkien can get away with that. Include world-building to enrich the story, not to impress your friends.




    “Should I add another species to Middle Earth? Flying Monkeys perhaps?”



    I am noodling around with a new story. I think I’m going to set it in the 1980s in a small town like the one I grew up in. Should I bother with World Building? Heck, yes. I’ll need to study up on the politics of the times, popular music, social norms.

    I doubt I’ll write about politics, but I better have a grasp of the basics from the ’80s to avoid making a mistake, like referring to the Green Party, which wasn’t founded until 2001. Or having my protagonist listen to alternative rock music, which didn’t really go mainstream until the 1990s.



    The resurgence of '80s fashions isn't happening fast enough. Who doesn't want to see this make a comeback?


    Researching the '80s might sound like a drag, but I also get to dive into the styles, which is going to be totally tubular.


    For more on World Building, check out these websites


    Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding


    Charlie Jan Ander’s The Seven Deadly Sins of World-Building


    Amber Mitchell’s Six Tips for World Building in Your Fantasy 






  • July 09, 2019 8:28 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)



          By JC Lynne



    Metaphors are a writer’s tool of the trade. We try to create more profound clarity for our readers and open their eyes to our point of view. 


    They can elevate our writing to soaring heights or anchor our words along with Prometheus. 



    Nothing delights writers like a metaphor that describes the writing process. They abound like Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage (not a metaphor).


    Walter Wellesley Smith famously said, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open a vein, and bleed.”


    The most prevalent writing metaphor/simile is the “writing a novel is like giving birth” (again, not a metaphor) trope. As a human being who has delivered three children into the world (two of them back labors) and who has also written four books, I have made no secret how much I hate this particular comparison. 


    I’d like to point out those three offspring are all still breathing. 


    The Best One I've Heard Yet. 


    I’ve put my writing on the back burner the last month or so to tackle a sewing project. Go ahead and scoff, yes, I sew. 




    When said offspring were young, I made most of their clothes, all of their Halloween costumes, as well as creating a variety of home goods. I haven’t used my machine for several years, and I have a twenty-five-year-old serger never out of the box. 


    Son 3 moved out, leaving an entire room empty of purpose. It took the blink of an eye to transfer my sewing and craft impedimenta into the space. 


    After failing to find something to wear to a black-tie, evening wedding, I burned with the drive to make something formal. WTF was I thinking? You know darn good and well what I was thinking, “How hard could it be?”


    If you haven’t heard this refrain, can you really call yourself a writer?


    In returning to a different kind of craft, I’ve finally landed on the perfect writing comparison.


    Writing a novel is, for me, like sewing.

    Maybe you took sewing in secondary Home Economics class. You may have made a skirt or a backpack, or something that approximates a skirt or a backpack. You know how to sew a straight seam and how to read a pattern, so you figure you have what it takes to tackle a larger project.



    An idea forms. You hunt through pattern books for something similar to your vision. You wander through aisles of fabric choices to customize your design. You have to break out the pattern pieces, cutting them out and ironing them flat so you can cut your fabric for the construction. You cut, you mark, you pin, and somewhere along the line, you start to sew. 

    I Picked Satin as My First Medium. It’s Like Trying for Dostoevsky on Your First Novel Attempt.



    There are so many little steps along the way. Clipping seams, basting, ironing, fitting, and hemming.


    You land on some facsimile of a garment and ask for feedback from trusted sources. And when that critique is honest and useful, you open a bottle of wine and salt it with your tears. Okay, that might only be me. And then, you take a pair of scissors to your creation.


    I don’t recommend combining those two steps, but let’s face it, is it really a worthwhile project if you don’t breakdown into hysterics at least once?


    You have to take a step back and give your brain some space to percolate. Now, you can go back to the project and start to rework the plan. 


    Not everyone is going to love your final look. That’s a given, but if you’ve nailed your measurements and the fit works, you may have something you aren’t ashamed to wear. 


    The more you sew, the handier you become at working through those little hitches. The fabric may pucker, your machine tension may need adjustment, and you may have to rip out a seam or two. Or three. 


    But that’s the process, and THAT is the best metaphor for writing I’ve come across. So, if you are thinking about writing a novel, man, woman, or child, hit the fabric store, pick something to make, and go to it. 


    You will absolutely discover how difficult it can be. 



  • July 04, 2019 11:07 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)




          By Eleanor Shelton




    Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let's talk about you and me. You know you're humming it now, right? 

    My paying job is to write for the military. I know, the antonym of fiction writing (or is it?). In the course of reading a Navy newsletter, I stumbled upon a story too good to be true.



    Never in My Life Would I Put Together Navy and Sky Penis. 


    Maybe you heard about this story on NPR or it popped up in your news feed. I was reading a Navy newsletter when I came across this photo.

    Yes, two bored Navy pilots had sky-written a penis over Whitby Island, Washington, causing a ruckus. I chuckled of course, as one does when you see something silly, juvenile, and utterly engaging. Everybody thinks about sex; young, old, clown, president, pilot. So, how about our fictional characters? If they are above the age of fourteen, I’d say they would too.

    Pearl of wisdom: The greatest desires exists at the boundary.

    What are your character’s boundaries?

    In writing sex scenes, we undress our characters both literally and figuratively. When we’re naked, we are authentic, human, and vulnerable. Each one of us has things about our bodies we’d change or are embarrassed about, the same should be true of our characters. Sex in real life is never as it is in fantasy (in case my husband is reading this, it’s super close!) so how does it go in your story?

    Recently I took a class about writing good sex scenes.  It was graphic, slightly embarrassing, open, raw, and fun. First, the instructor read an excruciatingly awful, very explicit sex scene that was part ice breaker and part “how not to” example—basically a bodice ripper gone off the rails. Then he had us write our own awful sex scene. 

    Pearl of wisdom: adverbs often prop up weak verbs.

    My pen hovered not wanting to commit to the assignment. Then I loosened up and had a marvelous time letting the outlandish story flow. I will spare you and your loved ones the details and keep this PG-13 (wouldn’t want NCW to get in trouble with the FCC). I will say it was different from any scene I had ever written before and way more entertaining. I allowed my main character to do and want things that had never occurred to me before, but why not?

    Several students read their work out loud, and the instructor used our own work to illustrate good (and not so good) literary techniques. Many found it a cleansing technique for writers to express humiliation and vulnerability in our own characters through writing about sex and perhaps cathartic in unexpected ways. 

    Pearl of wisdom: Use sex scenes to take your characters to unexpected places, both physical and emotional.


    Don’t name specific body parts i.e., genitals. By using slang or clinical names, the reader is taken out of the story.  Use fantasy. Most sex happens in our heads, what do your characters think about when they let their minds wander toward the erotic or forbidden? Don’t be cliché. Let your characters take a surprising turn. If your main character is a bodybuilder, perhaps he likes to luxuriate in a long bubble bath? How about a woman who studies her body in a full-length mirror daily and cries over her breasts that never fed babies but she picks up men at a bar who she can suckle (OK, again I just made that up so don’t judge). What the instructor suggests is to use the topic of sex to let your characters surprise you.

    I just may develop a story around the sex scene I wrote. Under a Pen Name.

    Check out some sex scenes that work.

    By contrast, did you know there is an award for the worst written sex scene?


  • June 27, 2019 8:29 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)



    By David E. Sharp




    While I try to avoid generalized statements, I believe there is a strong case for this one. Who else would put themselves through the agony of word counts, shitty first drafts, killing your darlings, receiving criticism with a smile and a thank you and stacks upon stacks of formal rejections. Passion is intrinsic to the craft.




    And, while writers are certainly passionate about writing (you know who you are, you Grammar Nazis!), I’ve found that the writing is a secondary passion. 

    Writing is a conduit.

    I don’t believe we start out with a desire to put words on paper for their own sake. The words are a tool for something else that drives us. Perhaps you have an experience that we need to share through memoir. Maybe you have a message to offer. Or a good yarn. Or some tips on how to make discount Halloween costumes with common household items.

    Whatever the case, you cared about something enough that it spurred you to take up your pen. When you realized your latest draft was a disaster, something motivated you to devise rewrites.


    We all have a something. I know because I’ve seen it.

    For the past few years, I have been working with the High Plains Library District’s writer in residence. Each year, the library district supports a burgeoning writer to create a masterpiece, get a foot in the door and connect with our library community. Part of the contract is that each writer in residence must put on a library program for the community. A small group of librarians help draw out the writer’s expertise and passion and shape it into a program.

    You might picture a series of small writing workshops, and there have been some. But these programs are as diverse as the people who deliver them. We’ve had writers who were passionate about history, slow-cooking, cancer awareness and service animals. Tapping into the minds of these remarkable people is never dull.

    During our program planning sessions, we talk very little about the craft. And perhaps that’s just as it should be.

    Have you found yourself in a lull lately? Are you struggling to put words on the paper? For many of us, writing is in our blood. We could never not write. But if you get tapped out, maybe it’s time to relocate your original talent.

    For me, it’s a love for great storytelling. I was a reader before I ever wrote a word, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


    Finding Your Passion

    Writing with Passion and Purpose

    What about you? What was the passion that drove you to pick up a pen?


  • June 19, 2019 10:24 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)




    By Ronda Simmons









    I have a virtual sticky note on the monitor in my office. It’s a quote from Stephen King:

    “Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter.”

    More than anything lately, it’s what keeps me writing.




    Angelina Litvin – Unsplash



    I recently sent off my latest screenplay for a professional review. While waiting for the praise, I was sure to get back for it, I worked on my academy awards acceptance speech. I’m sure you’ll all be glad to know that NCW was on the top of my list of those to thank. I worried about whether it would make sense to consider a part-time move to Hollywood because the offers were sure to start rolling in.

    Then I got the email with the review.

    Needless to say, this quote from Octavia E. Butler could have been written primarily for me: 

    “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking its good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.”

    Faced with a mountain of edits on my masterpiece, this quote from Stephen King is also apropos:

    “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”




    Put another way, maybe Papa Ernest Hemingway himself said it best:

    “The first draft of anything is shit.”

    Now that the “shitty first draft” is out of the way, I’m back to the story. It’s my favorite thing to do. I’ll finish it and ask my critique partners for input. Then I’ll send it to the professional again.

    And again, it probably won’t be ready for awards season, but it will be closer.

    That’s the whole point.

    Here are some more writing quotes to help you when rewriting is hard:

    “One thing that helps is to give me permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.” Lawrence Block

    For more quotes on writing and re-writing, check these websites:

    Quotes for Writers

    http://writersrelief.com/quotes-for-writers/

    Rewriting Quotes

    https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/rewriting

    18 Motivational Quotes To Bring Out The Writer In You.

    https://writingcooperative.com/18-motivational-quotes-to-bring-out-the-writer-in-you-ea3e61c93734


  • June 12, 2019 12:00 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)




    by Laura Mahal








    Summer is the time to explore new places, correct? 

    If you are like me, children’s sports schedules usually dictate where our family goes on vacation. Though there was the one time that I had a piece accepted by an anthology based in Ireland, and I simply had to go to County Cork. Twist my arm. Twist it again.




    How could this be anything other than destiny?



    Luckily, my daughter’s softball team plays in pretty towns up and down the Front Range, and adventure-filled places such as Rapid City, South Dakota and Cheyenne, Wyoming. (Umm, don’t tell my husband, but last weekend in between softball games, I bought the cutest 1920s Remington typewriter at an antique shop in Cheyenne.)

    There was a tournament in Steamboat Springs.

    She and I left Fort Collins on a Wednesday afternoon. We opted to stay in a small town called Hayden, about twenty-five minutes east of Steamboat Springs. Our room, one of three total in the hotel, was situated above the restaurant and bar.

    I decided that this was the perfect time to do a little writing research.

    Writing research? As in the explore the internet or visit the quaint local library?

    Uh-uh. Nope.


    Scotch was sadly not available.


    Circumstances called for meeting the beautiful people of Hayden and getting to know them better. I utilized my expert skills inspired by Diana Gabaldon and ordered some Jameson on the rocks. 


    The woman on the barstool next to me was also sipping whiskey with water. I happened to mention that it wasn’t often I met a woman who enjoyed a good whiskey. In less than two minutes, she had pulled out her cell phone, showed me photos of her children, and introduced me to everyone in the restaurant.

    Within the hour, I had received invitations to attend the circus at the fairgrounds the next night, as well as the best insider information as to where to dine and explore in Steamboat Springs.


    It took one line of dialogue to segue my way into the heart of a town.


    I learned which high schools had sixty graduates and which had only nine. One woman told me she liked Fort Collins but was scared to get out and do anything when she visited because it was just too big for her.

    Perspective. That’s what I gained, for the price of two drams, a shared basket of French fries, and the conversation between total strangers. Plus, I had what was possibly the best spinach salad with a blueberry vinaigrette that I’ve ever tasted.

    My daughter and I stopped at a historic dance hall in Wyoming and learned about the art of hay baling from an elderly proprietress over a couple of Heath ice cream bars. She explained how afternoon rains could spoil a whole crop of hay, which the kids would be baling over the next month. I’m tempted to drive back there in July and interview these youngsters regarding their hopes and dreams.


    dare to explore this summer. You don't have to go far.


    Step outside your comfort zone for an hour or two and call it research. Who knows what you will discover? A whimsical poem? An edgy flash fiction piece? That bit of tricky dialogue that’s been eluding you? Perhaps even the core idea for your next novel?

    And if not, at least you might earn the wonderful reward of a new friend.

    Write on!

    There’s an adventure out there with your name on it.


    For more ideas of summer adventures, check out:

    Three Way Travel Makes You a Better Writer

    Where do travel writers find inspiration

  • June 05, 2019 10:08 AM | JC Lynne (Administrator)



    By Brian Kaufman



    Back in the 70s, I played guitar in a couple metal bands. I had fun, but I wasn’t any good. These days, I’m trying to teach myself to play blues guitar again (a goal that aligns with my latest writing project). The 45-year layoff taught me two things. First, old fingers suck. Second, there’s a lot to learn about writing from playing guitar.



    Bob Denver Was So Much More Than Gilligan.

    The best guitarist I ever saw was an unlikely-looking kid (he resembled Bob Denver from the television show, Gilligan’s Island). I won’t mention his name because he still plays bars in northern Colorado. We got together a few times, decades ago, to jam.

    I asked him for the secret to crafting a good guitar solo. He said, “Start simple. Play a few licks they’ve heard and expected before you launch off into your crazy stuff. If you give them something they can wrap their heads around to start with, they’ll stick with you.”

    For non-musicians, a lick is a stock pattern or phrase that catches the ear.

    I think That Advice Crosses over to Writing.

    • Start simple.
    • Don’t use complicated or cluttered sentences. 
    • Don’t be abstract. 
    • Don’t be overly poetic. 
    • Save your adjective and adverb modifiers for later. 
    • Let readers get the rhythm of your prose before you yank them down your dark path. 
    As an editor, I often see story openings that try to impress with complex sentence structures, only to slip back into the author’s natural voice later. A false opening voice is a death knell for a submission.

    I've also seen instant bursts of action that require immediate backstory via a clumsy flashback.

    I can understand why this sort of thing happens. We've all been told to hook the reader with brilliance in the first six sentences. That's a lot of pressure. Perhaps I can mitigate some of it.

    In the hierarchy of imperatives, where you start your story might be more important than how you start. Focus on character and plot. Write the way you speak to ensure your authentic voice is in play.

    But what about terrible openings that don't work? Shouldn't you keep after that first page until it is perfect?

    One of the drawbacks to real life is the absence of a time machine to allow you to correct mistakes after-the-fact. Novel writing comes with a built-in time machine called self-editing. You can go back and change the opening after you finish your book. 


    In fact, your story’s opening may just be the last thing you should write before finishing the novel. And when you revisit that opening, my advice will still hold true. Start simple. 



    Let the story unfold—you have miles of pages to go before the end.


    Need Inspiration? Check Out The Best Opening Lines In Literature.

    Great Opening Lines


    Because breaking the rules is the only certain rule of writing. These classic lines don't follow any of my advice. Which of these openings is your favorite?





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