Pandemic Holiday Writing

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Hey #writers, if you’re like me this year, it’s a sucky Christmas. We’ve had two family members die during this #pandemic (not covid related) and are still not able to have funerals. Add to that, no getting together for the holidays. No hugs. No big dinners. No family nights with games and stockings. Nothing. It sucks. And for most of us it’s a tough holiday season this year for many other reasons as well.

We’re all feeling the loss of what should be, what used to be, and for some, what will never be again. But as writers we are blessed to have our craft to turn to in these times. The other day in my Zoom class, I asked my #writers to take 15 minutes and write (old school, pen and paper) the stages of their character’s hero’s journey. This little exercise helps me stay on track with #writing my #novel; see where there might be holes in my story, or steps I may have neglected all together.

Maybe during this difficult year, instead of focusing on our losses, we can concentrate our energies on our writing with a renewed effort, a plan for pandemic writing. So, how about giving yourself the gift of #writing; the 12 steps of the #herosjourney is no replacement for the 12 days of #Christmas, but it’s a start. Be kind to yourself, especially when times are tough. Here’s a little Hero’s Journey reminder. Keep writing. Cheers, Mindy Halleck

The Times They Are A Changin’

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Words are powerful.

Bob Dylan, and other folk music prophets wrote/write what the eye of a seeker sees and what a hungry soul feels. Songs, poetry and all great stories are prophetic and deeply moving when they echo the past or are in tune with the times. It just feels like a great day to share Bob Dylan’s words in the midst of these changing times….

The Times They Are A Changing

Song by Bob Dylan & The Band Lyrics (you can read, and then listen below)

Come gather ’round, people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
And you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Bob Dylan

The FIVE Senses Bring Stories to Life

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I can feel my writing student’s collective eye roll as I write this; “Show don’t’ tell, do a run through for passive writing. Mind your ‘ing and ly’ words. Where’s the smell, there are no smells in this scene.” And so on….

No matter what kind of story you are writing, memoir, short story, or novel, it’s vital to engage a reader’s senses. Precise and concrete details are essential to effective storytelling. The best way to achieve this is by appealing to the reader’s FIVE senses—smell, sight, sound, touch and taste—to FULLY illustrate a scene.

Trust me, if your character walks into a bar, takes the garbage out, goes fishing, is out nightclubbing or stumbles upon a dead body at sunrise, there is a provocative smell. That smell will bring the scene to life (or death) whichever….

A dead body at sunrise might have a sight that would be more seductive than a smell; it’s up to you the author to decide which of the senses best suits the suggestive nature of your scene.  Use the strongest description sense for your specific scene. In one scene, smell might be the most evocative sense to go with, in another, sound, or sight, or touch.

I have a heightened sense of smell, so for me smells are powerful. I still recall my pinched face when I read author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk’s description of someone’s breath, “smelled like a burp after you’ve ate pork sausage for breakfast.” That still grosses me out. Palahniuk’s common use of words that summon olfactory responses is a perfect example of showing and not telling.

And if you’re story takes place prior to modern sewer systems you have all the many stenches of humanity—before regular bathing and with piss buckets on every corner—from which to draw. If your story is in New York or Beverly Hills, the smell of perfume can help a character sum up the financial worth of a woman—or a man—or lack thereof.

And who can forget, Apocalypse Now, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Smells can be story gateways; the smell of coffee may take them back to a fond memory, or the taste of ice cream may take them back to a nightmare.

Revealing your story through the senses helps the reader to not just read, but to experience your story on multiple levels. Can you recall a particular story for it’s use of the senses?

Take a pen and paper and (if you’re not on quarantine) go sit in a coffee shop or café (wear a mask) and write down the smells, sights, sounds, touch and taste of that environment. No story, just details. Do any details, like the above-mentioned smell of coffee, take you back to a memory. Write that memory. Keep that list of details for when you write scenes that may need to be brought to life.  

For a complete list of words to use to describe smell, visit this site, https://www.writerswrite.co.za/75-words-that-describe-smells/

Follow @MindyHalleck on Instagram http://www.instagram.com/mindyhalleck

Life Gets In The Way

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I’ve been stressed, overwhelmed and slightly (not clinically) depressed this last year. Life is overwhelming for us all right now with covid, toxic politics, finances and our daily lives—there’s no arguing that.  And for me, add to those stressors my mother’s dementia and now her LONG goodbye. The doctor sent her home over a month ago, telling us death was imminent. I’ve been in emotional stasis, sleeplessness, stomach issues and overall just feeling CRAPPY in the face of her slow demise and my helplessness. Crappy. We think that now it will be only days until mom says her final farewell… Days…. Grieve, heavy as cement has anchored in my lungs.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Just this; sometimes life gets in the way of your writing goals. PERIOD. It’s life (and death) and you can’t beat yourself up (that’s me reminding myself to stop beating myself up)…sometimes you, I, just can’t focus on ANYTHING but what’s in front of me, and that takes ALL my energy. Lately, I’d forgotten why my writing mattered, why I did it, and if I should continue or just move on to something else, like that retirement I’m supposed to be enjoying.

Click image to see the list of 25 coffee shops

But sometimes the universe gives me a gentle reminder of why I write. This morning I woke to an e-mail from a publisher for whom I wrote and narrated a Seattle TOP 25 Coffee Shops App (still available on iTunes) because he wanted to verify my payment address. When I verified the address for a check I get every 24 months (all based on iTunes sales) I remembered how much fun it was to put all my favorite #writing #coffeeshops and hangouts throughout Seattle, into this app. It reminded me how I love to explore, #write about what I learn, and then learn something new, like creating an app. And it reminded me that in creating that app, or teaching a class, or submitting my novels and short stories for publication, that sometimes, once in purple moon, the universe responds. Thanks universe. I needed that gentle reminder.

So, if you’re going through a tough time, go through it, you cant go around it. Then, when you’re ready, your writing will be there, your stories will be waiting. When you return to them, a little more broken, a little more empathetic, you will bring that to your work and it will be the better for it. That’s a round-about way of saying, all of life is material. Don’t give up, just be kind and patient with yourself. Your writing will wait for you.

“Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.”― Philip Roth

If you are dealing with true depression, here is the SAMHSA national helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) PLEASE reach out to them.

 

First Pages Are Hard – ask any writer.

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Writing first pages is hard work. PERIOD.

The expectations of you as a writer are huge, and the expectations of readers is even HUGER (is that a word? Maybe not, okay…) BIG, big reader expectations start on the first page.

Anyway, it takes a lot of work to get it right. One thing to remember, amongst the gazillion other things you need to remember about first pages, is to ground your reader in some details. Which details depend on your story, theme, and your super-powers as a creative genius?

Your first page should, in some way, set up the general question your novel is asking and answering. And hopefully by the last page you will convey an answer to that question.

Meanwhile, the reader should have some idea about the setting right away. For example, what season is it? Where are the characters? What is the time period/special world/era? What is the mood? The elements you convey quickly in the beginning set the stage for the story to follow. And that my writerly friend, is a lofty quest.

Last week in a writing class, I shared the opening to one of Lauren Groff’s stories, Delicate Edible Birds as an example of a great first page/paragraph. This is not only beautiful writing, but also tells us a great deal about; location (Paris) mood (dark), era and conflict (WWII) and weather (rain) all in an imagery filled (wings of dark water…street corners as elbows, etc.) poetic style that seduced me as a reader, to continue on. (buy her book or Read some of the pretty words in the image to the right. One of my favorite openings ever!)

A reader should not have to wonder about fundamental questions while trying to slide effortlessly into your story world. This means you’ll have to provide some answers pretty quickly, like on page one.

If you can capture your reader’s curiosity, tickle their emotions, and deliver a character that does the same, then you’ve created a winning first page — one that will engage and mesmerize your audience.

The perfect first page draws readers in from the beginning and tempts them to keep reading. This is your first impression, your chance to hook readers and get them enthusiastic about the story to come. So take the time, use all your creative senses and get it right on page one. It’s not impossible, I promise, and it’s a challenge that’s SO worth it.

Writer Unboxed has a section called “Flog a Pro” where they ask people to read first pages of works by famous authors and then comment on whether or not they were moved to continue. Many say they were not. Reasons include too much detail about the setting or not interested in the characters, but usually the reason was simple—no tension.  Reading pages like this is a great way to get some ideas for your own work.

Also, read The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman for some great advice on writing your first pages. Good luck.