For years I’ve been procrastinating on my writing by pretending that I needed to hone my craft before I could become an effective writer. I now see that this is a rationalization; a false one. So to make it up to myself, I promised that I would kick it into high gear and write six books before I turn 27. That’s a novel every two months.
I am now in the thick of writing my first, and I’m making great progress. Here are four reasons why: read more
My favorite stories generally have a pace similar to that of a short sprint, which is to say very fast. Sometimes I like slow-burning plots where it feels more like a cautious walk through a haunted house and every creak and moan must be examined, but often I get fed up with the repetitive nature of those kinds of stories. My favorites are more oriented toward doing than thinking. Which is probably why I have never liked reading writing manuals: essays that deal with technique, form, characterization, etc. but are more pontification than calls to action. read more
Recently I’ve been trying to define what I think makes a story great and memorable, because how will I know if the story I’ve finished (reading or writing) succeeds if I don’t have some preconceived notion of what great looks like?
It feels like common knowledge that for a story to be good there has to be plot and character development, along with interesting dialogue. However, I’ve found that great stories exist on at least two planes, meaning the great ones tell at least two stories simultaneously. One of my favorite books, The Neverending Story, tells the tale of a chubby, bullied English boy who becomes the hero in his own story–while simultaneously showing that being the hero in his own story is tied to being comfortable in his own skin. It’s a lesson so big that Bastian doesn’t grasp it the first time and it takes a second, more personal, approach for him to realize that no matter how much he changes things like his appearance, he won’t truly change who he is if he doesn’t first truly know who he is.
What’s great about the two-plane story is that read more
The more I read, the more ideas I have. Movies and TV work to an extent, but books usually have more in them than a movie or TV show. It should be obvious: more incoming data equals more creativity. “Should” being the key word.
These past few weeks I’ve been in a bit of a lull. I went from no jobs to two jobs, decided to write six books before I turn 27, and still had two in-person volunteer commitments per week. Reading another book wouldn’t fit into the schedule I’d created for myself. My movie choices were less than inspiring (Hunger Games *coughtwicecough* and Mirror Mirror). All of the TV networks conspired to play reruns for the past several weeks (okay not all, but enough). No surprise that my creative endeavors have been petering out—I’d been feeding my creativity far less than she was used to, but expecting her to do the same amount of work. I suspect this could be some form of self-abuse, but I’m getting off track. read more
Here are some labels I never want associated with my name, or with my writing: minority, black, African-American. Not because I’m not happy to be those things, but because I’m so much more. When I write, I’m not telling black stories: I’m telling human stories. Labels lead to marginalization.
Recently I read the excellent essay “Literature and Democracy,” in which Pablo explores his concerns over labels, especially the ethnic kind. “Suddenly,” Medina writes, “the person’s worth as a writer is of secondary importance to the social labels we, as critics and readers, are able to tag on her.” Even though, as he says, “What matters about truly great literature is the totality of its human content.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about the color my words take on. In my vision, the characters I write often look similar to me, which I take as a reaction to the fact that in what I read, the majority of the characters do not look like me. read more
There’s this quote that I can’t find accreditation for but I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It states, “Opinions are like belly buttons; everyone has one.” However not every opinion you receive is a helpful one. Sometimes the feedback you get on your story has nothing to do with the quality of your writing, and more to do with the personal taste and knowledge of the person giving the feedback.
Here are three signs that point to what I like to call a counteractive critic:
1) When asked “Would you improve famous artwork X?” they respond, “Yes,” but they can’t tell you why. read more
Austin, Texas is home to Writing on the Air, a radio program that looks at everything writing. I recently had an email back-and-forth with host Francois Pointeau about what it means to be a part of the Writing on the Air Collective, his literary influences and loves, and what it takes to be a featured on Writing on the Air.
Q. How did Writing on the Air (WOTA) originally come about? Was it a singular effort by you? Or something that came out of the Writing on the Air Collective?
A. When I joined WOTA, the show had been on the air for over 8 years. It’s now been just a little over 2 years that I’ve been on the show, and I love it! WOTA is a collective show. read more
I’m a little jealous of plumbers, electricians, teachers, mechanics, doctors, construction workers; the list goes on. No one wonders if a person is qualified to call herself a doctor, because either she has gone to medical school and can tell you whether the cough you have is a cold or the flu or she hasn’t gone to medical school and is therefore not qualified. There is no gray area to being a member of any of those occupations. Either you are or you aren’t. But when it comes to being a writer, everyone I know has a book they’ve been dying to write.
I graduated with a BA in a bunch of different disciplines and one of them (arguably the first one) is writing. read more
I have two tools to keep me on track throughout my day and through my writing process: rewards and breaks. Rewards are quite obvious: they come after I’ve accomplished some task (sometimes it’s big like an entire story arc, other times it’s small like finishing an initial storymap). Breaks are a little more difficult because I have a hard time diagnosing when I should take a break and when I should muscle through a rough patch.
For me writing is analogous to a water faucet–sometimes writing comes like turning on a modern faucet, turn the handle and water pours out. Other times writing comes like turning on an old faucet, turn the handle and after a few false starts and some rusty water you’re in business. And sometimes writing is like turning on a faucet that has no water supply: it always feels like it’s about to pour out but all that’s really there is the sound of sucking. read more
The editor/literary agent clearly screwed up and sent you the wrong letter. All you need to do is wait for the mistake to be fixed. Or maybe you should call and let them know they’ve made an egregious mistake. After all, what does a literary agent do besides read manuscripts all day? It’s completely plausible–in fact, likely–that your story slipped into the reject pile by accident. read more
In my basement apartment there are two places I can write: the living room or the spare bedroom’s closet. Whenever I have visitors, though, I can’t write—I get a case of shy pen. However once I leave my house, my pen is liberated to sweep across as fast or as slow as the story comes to me. Standard options for places to write outside the house are coffeehouses or cafés because almost every town has at least one and it’s not overly expensive; but it’s not your only option. read more
Most myths hold some type of truth; it’s why they’re so believable, and their touches of unbelievable are what make them so memorable. Unfortunately some myths are more like old wives’ tales and tend to lead to nothing good. Allow me to take the wind out of a few common myths, and hopefully add some wind to your writing.
Myth: Maintenance, like doing the dishes, is more important than writing.
Fact: Writing is as important as doing chores, possibly even more. read more
The saying “You are what you eat” can apply to your media diet too. Don’t get me wrong, I love B movies and cop procedurals, but storytelling at its finest they are not. However there are techniques and lessons you can take away from artsy foreign flicks and super cheesy rom-coms alike–if you can sit through them.
Sitting through a guilty pleasure and taking notes don’t automatically go together, but if you’re feeling particularly guilty, keeping a pen and paper around while watching 13 Going On 30 to note details and thoughts (good or bad) can fight the I-just-ate-a-dozen-donuts feeling after. I like to think of it as a detective game, discovering exactly what I find compelling and what is bad storytelling. It’s like Francine Prose’s idea of close reading, only with visual media. The one downside to this is that you may, on occasion, figure out how something will end. However it’s only bad if you see this as a curse and not a superpower. (Please remember that with great power comes great responsibility. And continually guessing aloud how TV shows and movies will end will not make you popular.) read more
For your reading (and mocking) pleasure, here are three poems from Justine’s juvenilia we could all live full lives without.
I shouldn’t have to deal with that
Hot to cold, cold to hot.
If it had ears, I’d tell it to
pick a temperature. read more
Last week, Austin’s Greenleaf Book Group, LLC brought us the insider’s scoop on traditional publishing. Here, we present Greenleaf’s thoughts on vanity publishing and new-technology publishing, also known as POD or print on demand.
Another option is to use a vanity publisher. They offer to publish any book, regardless of the quality, for a fee. Instead of an advance, they charge an exorbitant amount and take a 50 to 75 percent stake in the work. read more