Hygge Writing Prompts

As the winter solstice approaches and the nights lengthen to their darkest and most forbidding, I am inclined to go dormant along with the trees and squirrels. The Danish concept of Hygge (hoo-ge) has a way of embracing that desire to bring things down a notch, while remaining pleasantly productive throughout those dreary days of winter. It’s all about connecting with nature, friends, and all that nurtures the soul in the colder months. Here are four writing prompts inspired by this way of living that just might help you find joy in the beautiful coziness of our shortest days.

 

Winter Walk

A winter walk can be inspiring.

When temperatures drop, our human instinct tells us to stay as comfortable as possible at all times… which generally means we collectively become homebodies if we weren’t already. Less time outdoors means less daylight and vitamin D, which means lowered seratonin production, which encourages scroogey attitudes. Don’t let it affect your writing mojo!  Bundle up and head outside. Notice the changes of the plants in your area. Is it peacefully silent in your neck of the woods? Or busier than ever on your street with the impending holidays? Notice everything. Take notes. When you get someplace you can really write, flesh out vignettes of the places you went and the scenes that were most interesting. Was it that one tree stubbornly insisting on autumn with one vibrant leaf still clinging to a twig? Was it the stressed-out convo overheard? An act of kindness observed? Post your experience here or on our Facebook page!

 

Cozy Cups

Awaken your senses.

Hot drinks warm you up from the inside out and just feel right at this time of year. Prepare an assortment of hot drinks and some nibbles. Something familiar is nice, but be sure to include something you’ve never tasted before. Find a comfortable place to sip and write without distraction. Describe each tea, cocoa, or even soup, in detail. Finding the right words to accurately represent the complexity of flavor is the challenge! If it’s a hot toddy, how does the alcohol affect your senses? Include any memories that pop up in association with each concoction. This exercise is almost meditative as you learn to slowly savor each sip and decipher the language of your palate.

 

Friends and Food

Collaboration with friends.

One critical element of Hygge is self-care; understanding the need for kindness to ourselves. While many here are already paring back their meals in penance for the holiday feasting, the Danes embrace all that  brings comfort and joy, especially friends and good food. Gather some of your favorite people, prepare some of your favorite foods, and play some of these improv games. Thinking on your feet and collaborative storytelling encourage you to think outside the box in ways staring at a blank page just doesn’t.

  • One Word — Sit in a circle and tell a story together. If you’ve ever played “Fortunately but Unfortunately,” this is similar, but as you go around the circle each person contributes only the next single word to the sentence/story. Don’t overthink! Just say whatever pops out. The result is hilarious fun.
  • Telestrations — This is a game that can be purchased, or done simply with paper and pencils for the group. The first person writes a sentence, then folds the paper so that the sentence is covered, and passed to the left. The next person peeks at the sentence and illustrates it. If you are a horrible artist, no worries! It just makes the next part more fun. Fold that paper the other way, so your art AND the sentence are hidden, and pass it to the left. Now look at ONLY the illustration, and write a sentence to describe what you see. Repeat this process, passing the papers until you get your original paper back. Sharing and laughing together by firelight feeds the soul, and the whole shenanigan improves creativity.
  • Yes and No… with a twist– This message will self-destruct after you finish this page. Well, maybe not, but the game can really only be played once with any particular group of friends. Tell your friends it will be a storytelling game, where half of you will be creating a story, and they have to guess what it is asking only questions with yes and no answers; then send half the group out of the room.  The remaining half is told that they are actually NOT going to create the story, the guessers are. For every question that starts with a consonant will be a yes answer, vowels will be a no. When the other half returns, the incognito collaboration begins.

 

Luminaries

“There are two ways of spreading light:

to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.”

Edith Wharton

Hygge culture thrives by candlelight. So light a candle, find a cozy fireplace, and contemplate those who have given light, illumination, a brightness to your world of some kind. This can be someone you know very well, a child, an artist who has inspired you, a historical or religious figure who lit a figurative fire in some way; anyone who has been a luminary to you personally. Write a quick character sketch based on that person. What have been their biggest challenges and how did they overcome them? Write their biography from your limited perspective. Write them a letter thanking them for their influence in your life. This can be four writing opportunities in one if you let it.

 

Snuggle into the rhythms of winter. Writing practice can include creative collaborations and silent contemplations. Be kind to yourself, embrace friends and comforting traditions. And keep writing.

Rising Above the Noise: Writing Social/Political Commentary

We’re all painfully aware of the inexhaustible barrage of social and political commentary these days, thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and social media buzzing like starved flies around a cesspool of absurd political chaos and indefensible partisan posturing. Sometimes you just want to get away from it all and write about gumdrop fairies and unicorns dancing on rainbows, and while that’s perfectly fine, that’s not the objective here today.

You may ask yourself, “why bother?” If social or political writing consisted solely of punditry and opinion pieces, I’d be right there with you. Unless you are bringing something completely revolutionary to the table, pursuing straight commentary at this point will all but guarantee you’ll be lost in the shuffle. Fiction with a political or social bent, however, allows plenty of space to say your piece and offer new angles on situations most assume have been wholly explored. A special piece of art can change the world, and the most impactful art tends to draw from the world around us. Luckily, writers have numerous methods that can stir readers’ consciousness without preaching or force-feeding a set of preconfigured ideals.

We’ve all read something that feels less like a story or conversation and becomes a diatribe that strikes the wrong nerve and sets an uncomfortable tone. Once a reader reaches that point, there’s rarely any turning back. The one major exception here is satire. That said, satire is one of the most difficult genres to get right, but the payoff is by far the most rewarding. If you’ve got a satirical piece materializing, make sure you go back and re-read Jonathan Swift’s legendary “A Modest Proposal” one more time to ensure your grasp of the form is firm. Swift’s convictions are steadfast, but instead of pounding his readers over the head in an attempt to force compassion, he challenges us to reckon with a ludicrous darkness and find our own way to the message.

One of the biggest challenges to writing a timely commentary is that it can come with a giant expiration date, but using allegory avoids a head-on collision with overt hot topics. Like satire, allegory can be hard to pull off without irony or being too obvious, but again, you can weave a very rewarding tale with enough work and the right vision. Think of allegory as a metaphorical narrative, in which you tell the story as directly or indirectly as you like, but masking the actual details with characters, settings, and events that don’t have any clear correlation with the underlying narrative. For the most basic examples, think Aesop’s Fables. For something that goes a little deeper, try George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

For a less restrictive foray, take a stab at genre fiction. I know science fiction and fantasy (SFF) have long been the poster children for escapism, often denounced as being universally unimportant or just for kids, but just in case you were unaware, people who make these sweeping judgments could not be more wrong. Several classic novels are now categorized as literary fiction, even though they are SFF: 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Farenheit 451 are just the tip of the iceberg. In more recent years, “speculative fiction” has risen to prominence as a division of SFF that leans more socially conscious and forward thinking, with writers like N.K. Jemisin, Jeff Vandermeer, Nnedi Okorafor, and many others forging a strong path.

With SFF, you can write direct representations of reality filtered through alien characters or situations, and while your audience will (hopefully) pick up what you’re throwing down, you won’t be stuffing it down their throats, and they’ll be all the happier for it.
If this style of genre fiction simply doesn’t suit you, just extract your subject and inject it into an unexpected place. This way you have more freedom than you would within an allegory, but you still have an interesting structure to build on. If you have a raging diatribe about the current administration, shift to a setting with lower or considerably different stakes, like a family owned theme park, a corner store, underground snake wrestling club, or whatever you see fit.
Whichever direction you take with your sociopolitical work, begin with a clear, original, truthful stance. Write with honesty and integrity, respect your readers’ intelligence, and don’t tell them what to think—show them what happens when characters think in certain ways.

Surviving Burnout! A Must-Read for the Holiday Season

As November winds down and brings NaNoWriMo to a close, it’s time to discuss an important subject that many writers face but don’t like to talk about: writer burnout. All of us have or will come across this dreaded feeling; it’s akin to a sailor being stranded in the doldrums. One minute you’re flying along on the giddy wings of inspiration, and your fingers can’t keep pace with your ideas. The next, you stumble and stare at a blank page. What was effortless a second ago is now a drudge. The words are there, but they jumble inside your mind and they won’t come out. Is it writer’s block or are you tired? This happens to us all. It’s unexpected, it’s not preventable, it’s frustrating and there is no way of knowing how long it’s going to last. The only cure is patience. Writer burnout can strike anyone at any time. So what can you do when it happens to you?

We’ve talked a lot about how to use strategies to overcome writer’s block, but burnout is different. The definition of burnout is: “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” It’s important to identify the events or times in your life in which you may be suffering high amounts of stress that could contribute to sudden and unexpected burnout. NaNoWriMo is a big culprit. The holidays are another. Tests, exam dates, family visiting, changes to a schedule … these are all valid reasons that one might suffer burnout, especially at this time of year.

But writing is how I combat stress in my life, you might say. I agree, as writers do. It can be a cathartic outlet and is a form of stress relief. So why then would one be burned out from doing the thing they love? It is when there is a schedule involved, such as writing for a deadline, editing a project, contributing to a literary journal, composing an academic paper, contributing to a competition or hosting a blog which one might find pressure building. This brings a different sort of expectation to the writing than one would have in writing for pleasure. Typically, writers take pride in their skill and they are so at ease in their craft that they are writing far more than they realize. They may craft a paper for school and discount that as “writing” because it was so easy for them. They may put out a quick blog post but not consider that “real writing.” Then when they come home to work on their novel, they don’t realize that they have been using their talents all day. It may not seem like much, and it may be enjoyable, but it is still writing and requires work. When we are under stress from different areas of our life, the words dry up and we are left wondering if they will ever return.

A big contributor to burnout is the holiday season. Whether you love it or hate it, it is tough on the life of a writer. Most cultures celebrate holidays of some kind, and no matter what time of year they fall, they tend to involve a disruption of schedule. Writers need time to practice their craft, and they require uninterrupted concentration. This is in short supply when relatives are visiting and the flow of the day is different due to celebration. Increased responsibility and attendance at festivities means that writing needs to take a backseat to whatever event—or events—are occurring. These events could be a day or even span the course of several weeks. Some families are accepting and accommodating of writers’ needs during this time, and others are less so. This can lead to frustration and guilt for the writer. This slurry of disrupted scheduling and emotional havoc is a major contributor to burnout.
What can be done? Be patient and forgiving of yourself, especially during a time of year when you expect to have increased responsibilities that will take away from your writing time. Plan when you can write and set aside those moments so that you can be assured to have time for yourself in the chaos of the holiday season, but know, too, that you might not be able to keep to your regular output. Understanding that beforehand will alleviate anxiety. Many people who participated in NaNoWriMo choose to take off the month of December. A pause is something to consider, and know that you may come back in January invigorated and refreshed.

Understanding that burnout doesn’t just happen to some—it happens to all—is a helpful point to remember. This is something that is stress-induced and can be managed, but in the end every writer has been in this position, and you are not alone. From Shakespeare to Virgina Woolf, if you wield a pen, at some point you will feel betrayed by your inspiration. It’s the badge that marks you as an author, and something only time and patience can cure. But by keeping in mind that you are in good company and you, too, will survive, hopefully your holidays will be a little less stressful to begin with.

December Events

Hey everyone! Hope y’all had a great Thanksgiving! With the passing of this holiday, December is quickly approaching, so here is the monthly events article! This article consists of a list of 10 free writing events in Michigan, yeah you read that right, they’re all FREE. As usual, please comment on this article if you attend these, or any other events not listed! We’d love to hear from you!

1st – Beyond Breakthroughs Vision Board Party – Detroit

While this isn’t exactly a writing event, creating a vision board can help you visualize the settings and overall feel of whatever piece of writing you’re working on, whether it’s a novel, short story, or even a poem! Check out more details through the link!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beyond-breakthroughs-vision-board-party-tickets-52405026846?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-source=strongmail&utm-term=listing

 

2nd – Novel Revelry: “The Big Sleep” Raymond Chandler – Ann Arbor

This little book club is perfect for anyone who is looking for a sense of community! This month, they are discussing the book “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler! Click the link for more information!

Novel Revelry: “The Big Sleep” Raymond Chandler

Sunday, Dec 2, 2018, 10:30 AM

A delightful home Ann Arbor
xxx Ann Arbor, MI

12 Revelers Attending

We’ve all seen the movie now let’s read the book: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. then we’ll have a discussion held at an address to be announced. Note the time change: 1030am.-1230 pm, Sunday, 12/2/18. Coffee available. Bring snacks or not. Here’s a little bit about Chandler and the Big Sleep. The 100 best novels: No 62 – The Big Sleep by Raymo…

Check out this Meetup →

3rd – How to Quiet the Inner Critic – Ann Arbor

Jeannie Ballew will be giving this awesome presentation all about how to deal with your inner critic, and get back to writing! With different activities and snacks, this is jammed packed! More information is available on their MeetUp!

How to Quiet the Inner Critic

Monday, Dec 3, 2018, 6:00 PM

Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room
114 South Main Street Ann Arbor, MI

16 Awesome Writers Attending

Every writer, and I mean every writer, struggles with self-doubt. Since those doubts aren’t going to go away (sorry), how do you keep going, especially when the mean voice in your head gets really loud? What will give you the courage to dig ever deeper in the face of that nagging doubt and soldier on? Come join us to discover the two questions you …

Check out this Meetup →

5th – Open Mic Poetry – Farmington Hills

It’s exactly what the name says! Come share your poetry at the Open Mic Poetry night, or just listen! Click the link for more info!

Open Mic Poetry

Wednesday, Dec 5, 2018, 7:30 PM

Kola Lounge & Resturant
32523 Northwestern Hwy. Farmington Hills, MI

4 Members Attending

POETRY IS A RHYTHMIC CREATION OF BEAUTY IN WORDS. -Edgar Allen Poe Don’t be shy! We invite you to share an original poem or just sit back and listen. Join us for an evening of artistic expression in spoken word. (Novice poets welcome!)

Check out this Meetup →

6th – Pagodaville Book Release – Kalamazoo

Ellen Bennett will be celebrating the release of her new book, “Pagodaville”. It’s sure to be a memorable event! More info through the link!

https://www.evensi.us/pagodaville-book-releaseauthor-signing-ellen-bennett-224-michigan-avenue-kalamazoo-49007/278674818

7th – Critical Studies Writing Worshop – Bloomfield Hills

This event will look into a variety of topics, provided on the Eventbrite link that’s listed below, and a writing workshop, all presented by John Corso, author of “New Subjectivities in Fiber Art and Craft: Shadows of Affect”

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/critical-studies-writing-worshop-tickets-50671985272?utm-medium=discovery&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-source=strongmail&utm-term=listing

13 – YA Book Club – December Read – The Fearless – Goodrich

The Cottage Used Bookstore Book Club will be discussing  “The Fearless” by Emma Pass. This book club focuses on YA (Young Adult) Novels, but welcomes all ages! Click the link for more info!

YA Book Club – December Read – The Fearless

Thursday, Dec 13, 2018, 7:00 PM

Cottage Used Books
8331 S. State Road Goodrich, mi

2 Members Attending

Join us for a fun evening discussion of this action packed YA book!

Check out this Meetup →

16th – Meet & Greet: Welcome Writers & Filmmakers – Dearborn

This is a great event to go and network at! Meet tons of writers, filmmakers, and many more professionals! Through the link is more information!

Meet & Greet: Welcome Writers & Filmmakers

Sunday, Dec 16, 2018, 2:00 PM

brome burgers and shakes
22062 Michigan Ave Dearborn, MI

4 Members Attending

Come enjoy great food and get to know other aspiring writers and filmmakers. This will be an informal meeting to share ideas and career aspirations, create an outline for future meetings and begin developing OUR film project.

Check out this Meetup →

19th – Author – Book signing and story telling. Wild Shot. – Cheboygan

This book signing will feature Andy Lieber, the author of “Wild Shot”,  his book is about traveling the world and his experiences with Olympic athletes! Don’t miss this cool event!

https://allevents.in/michigan/author-book-signing-and-story-telling-wild-shot/20002559953676

22nd – Author Signing: Mark Stormzand, Stormy Outside: The Adventures And Misadventures Of A Forester & His Dog – Traverse City

Mark Stormzand will be discussing and signing copies of his book, “Stormy Outside: The Adventures And Misadventures Of A Forester & His Dog”! This is sure top be a fun and lighthearted event! Click that link to see more information!

Author Signing: Mark Stormzand, STORMY OUTSIDE: THE ADVENTURES AND MISADVENTURES OF A FORESTER & HIS DOG

Have a great December everyone, and good luck on all your Black Friday shopping!

 

 

Strengthen your Character.

 

 

Hemingway once said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.” So how do you create that depth of realism in your protagonist that makes you (or at least your readers) weep at their misfortunes? How much time should you devote to these exercises? I once attended a Brandon Sanderson book signing where he answered the question saying you need to know (at minimum) these 3 things about each and every character, no matter how minor:

 

  • Where did they come from?
  • What do they want?
  • What’s stopping them from getting it?

 

You will find endless lists online of questions to ask yourself/your characters to help define who they are and how they will function in your story, but I find myself returning to these core questions again and again. It doesn’t need to take long, but the more fully fleshed out these answers are, the more fully your people will live and breathe on every page.

It can be as simple as deciding that my gatekeeper from the village now works in the big city, and just wants to go home and see his visiting daughters for the evening, but this rough-looking traveler is getting in the way. It can be as complicated as detailing the religious beliefs of an political dissident who is plotting a major coup with multiple obstacles. Very versatile.

 

There are a variety of apps that can help as you seek to give your character depth and clarity. I’m not talking about those word processing apps (with a little spunk) like Scrivener or yWriter, I’m talking about dynamic organizational tools that will make your background work on character development and world building easy to find and integrate into your writing.

My very talented niece introduced me to Notebook.ai, a free online app that organizes all of your background information into four integrated categories: Universes, Characters, Locations, and Items. I find it to be a very efficient way of seeing all the pieces I need easily and directly. It includes relationship maps, and can be as simple or as detailed as you like. Its format does encourage you to be succinct, but doesn’t have a character limit that forces the issue.

Another fairly new option is StoryShop. This one is more comprehensive, there is a price tag, but could be worth it. While this one features a character development section, it also provides space for outlines, research, and a word processor so you can keep ALL the pieces in one box. (I will do a follow-up post reviewing these tools and others soon!)

So spend some time fleshing out the people in your stories. Make them live and breathe and desire. No matter their age, they have goals and fears, and something drives their decisions. What is it? Make sure you know.

 

A word of caution: Don’t let your time spend in character development or world building become so all-encompassing that it distracts you from your true goal: Completing that story! You NaNoWriMo soldiers get back to work!

You’re Not Alone: NaNoWriMo Support

Embarking on NaNoWriMo is daunting from the jump, but fear not! There are plenty of resources for everyone from first timers to seasoned vets, and there are more popping up each year. No matter how far along you are or what’s holding you up, there’s a solution out there to get you to the finish line.

NaNoWriMo.org

This is home base for NaNo warriors, chock full of resources that you may already be aware of, but there’s so much here that some of the essentials can get lost in the shuffle. Here are some direct links:

Pep Talks – Pep talks written by well-known authors delivered right to your inbox.
Regions – Meet other like-minded participants in your area to help each other through.
Word-Count Helpers – Track your progress and share milestones.
Forums – Everything from motivators to a place to unwind, be sure not to spend more time chatting than writing!

Camp NaNoWriMo

Camp NaNoWriMo is the very definition of community for NaNo participants, featuring counselors and coaches, forums, and badges to celebrate your milestones. Use your nanowrimo.org account to sign in!

@NaNoWordSprints

For something a little different, pop over to Twitter and join a scheduled word sprint run by NaNo volunteers.

The LetterWorks

While you’re here, we’ve written a handful of NaNo help guides on a variety of subjects:

November Events
Making The Most of NaNoWriMo
30 Days in the Trenches: Staying Motivated During NaNoWriMo
Writing Past the Wall
Let it Rest.

WikiWriMo

Have a question about anything NaNo related? Chances are you’ll find your answer here.

 

With these resources at your disposal, you can win NaNoWriMo!

Memoir vs. Autobiography: Does It Really Matter?

Happy November! For most of America, the transition from October to November heralds the end of trick-or-treating and pumpkins and the anticipation of Thanksgiving and the bigger winter holidays, whatever your family celebrates. For writers, however, November first means only one thing: the start of NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month! Our staff has covered this venerable tradition in the past, and we’ve got advice for you if you’re participating this year for everything on staying motivated  to the importance in staying connected with like-minded individuals to reviewing your work after the big rush . Here are some links to get you started:

This post is for the portion of our friends out there who swim in the autobiographical end of the writer’s pool or for those who are thinking about testing those waters this November. We are seeing more and more of a trend towards autobiographical submissions. This is becoming a very popular category of the nonfiction section, and why not? It’s easy to see why people might want to draw from their own personal histories to create an epic novel; there’s an endless source of inspiration to draw from. Anyone can do it, from celebrities to political figures to a person with a story to tell. But hold on a second: does anyone remember that moment in time back in 2006 when A Million Little Pieces was first hailed as a masterpiece then ultimately crucified as a work of fraud? Written by James Frey, the book was billed as a memoir, but on January 8, 2006, The Smoking Gun published an article exposing large portions of the book as fictionalized or gross exaggerations. Mr. Frey was interviewed by Larry King to defend his book three days later, but the real media storm happened on January 26 when Mr. Frey made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He was confronted by her and admitted to fabricating many sections of his memoir, which he had previously stated had been fact-checked by his publisher. This ultimately caused an ensuing controversy in which Mr. Frey’s literary manager dropped him and his publisher broke a two-book, seven figure deal. A legal settlement for readers who felt defrauded was also reached, and people were entitled to a refund of their book. That’s a massive consequence for someone who embellished the truth a bit. So where’s the line? Should writers be expected to remember every conversation they’ve ever had when they are recording memories to the page? Is any creative license allowed, or are we in danger of being sued by some disgruntled cousin who doesn’t remember the family reunion going down the way we do? How can we sort through what is fact and what is reasonable fiction? Luckily, there’s an answer to these questions and more.
Everything on this list falls under the umbrella of non-fiction. If I think of writing as dessert, then autobiography is cake. Memoir, narrative nonfiction, personal essays and roman à clef are all just slices of the same cake. Let’s break it down:

Autobiography: An autobiography can be distinguished from the others on the list as the most factual of the bunch. It is told in a linear fashion and should relay all the major life events of the subject in a chronological order. It concerns itself with the entire scope of a person’s life and all of the events, people, places and subjects that relate to a person’s existence as they move forward through their life, not just a few key years, events, feelings or observations of the narrator.

Memoir: This form gives someone more creative license. It can cover a few short years or a major event. Examples might include how someone survived their time in a concentration camp or how they overcame an addiction. It doesn’t have to be harrowing, but it may just focus on one developmental stage and is more likely to reflect strong feelings. It is generally less factual and more emotional. It is far less encompassing in scope than an autobiography. It is generally less formal and may have a more literary feel.

Narrative non-fiction: Narrative or creative non-fiction is a somewhat new and emerging genre. It draws on real-life scenarios, usually something journalistic, but incorporates elements of fiction to become a readable novel. According to literary critic Barbara Lounsberry, there are four recognizable elements to narrative nonfiction: the topics and events must exist in the real world (not in the mind of the author), there must be exhaustive research, all scenes must be in context, and it should all be presented in a literary style. Some examples of narrative nonfiction are The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Personal essay: This is exactly what it sounds like: an essay that is personal to you. It is generally just a short memoir. A great example of a classic personal essayist is David Sedaris.

Roman à clef: Roman à clef is from the French, meaning “novel with a key.” It began as a way for people to write an expose of famous social and political figures without the risk of reprieve. It is truth with an overlay of fiction. Names or identifying situations can be changed to avoid persecution, but the general public could still understand and enjoy the jab. This could be done for protection of the author or for satirical purposes. The Marquis de Sade often employed the roman à clef to skewer prominent religious and political figures of his day. Today, the roman à clef is still in use for various reasons, including satire, but it can also be used when you’d like to write a memoir but perhaps you would like a bit more creative license than your own story affords you. This is where certain authors—cough, Mr. Frey, cough—could simply have stated his work was inspired by real events. That little disclaimer would have saved him seven figures plus and a whole lot of embarrassment.

These are all just guidelines. Most of them bleed into each other. The important thing to remember is if you have a story to tell that you don’t fret which category you bill it as, but that you get it all down on paper, especially this November! A good editor can help you decide how your memories and your story fit together and what you’d like to call it. Happy writing!

November Events

While I’m sure everyone is excited for Halloween next week, it’s never too early to start planning for all the cool writing events you’ll be attending this November! As it is officially NaNoWriMo, there will be a lot of events this month that revolve around it! Hopefully you can find the perfect event to help you reach your goal! As usual, all of these events are free to attend! Happy writing everyone!

2nd – Tom VanHaaren- “The Road to Ann Arbor” – Ann Arbor

Tom VanHaaren will be at the Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor to discuss and sign copies of his book; “The Road to Ann Arbor”! While there isn’t a lot of information on this event, it’s sure to be great! More Info through the link!

https://www.triumphbooks.com/tom-vanhaaren—the-road-to-ann-arbor–event-3443.php

3rd –  ‘5th Annual ‘A Gathering of Writers’ Fall Writing Conference’ – Ionia

This conference is jam packed with a variety of workshops and authors, all willing to teach you new skills! There are 5 workshops overall, each offering different tips and tricks about all aspects of writing! Click the link to see descriptions of the workshops, get more information and register!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/5th-annual-a-gathering-of-writers-fall-writing-conference-tickets-50442754637?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

8th – Lecture: Dr. David Dark – Holland

This lecture will certainty be interesting as Dr. David Dark will be discussing the points of post-apocalyptic novels, and how they challenge our morals. He will also be discussing Emily St. John Mandel’s ‘Station Eleven’ novel in a similar fashion! Click here to register and read more!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lecture-dr-david-dark-author-of-lifes-too-short-to-pretend-tickets-50455115609?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

9th – 10th – NaNoWriMo Write or DIE Library Lock-in – Traverse City

Contrary to the title, you will not die! This is an 18+ event held at the Traverse City Library, and participants will spend the night locked in the library to try to meet their NaNoWriMo goals! An interesting event indeed! Don’t forget to register and check out more information through the link!

NaNoWriMo Write or DIE Library Lock-In

10th – Motown Writers Monthly Meetup – Detroit

This group has been meeting since 2000, and is filled with all sorts of writers! A great opportunity to network with other writers and share opinions! Click the link for more information, and to see there other meetups!

Motown Writers Meetup Group

Detroit, MI
2,934 Writers

Hi everyone. This is a group for everyone in the Detroit Area (and Michigan area) who like to write. Whether it’s a novel, short story, poem, autobiography, or any other gener…

Next Meetup

#MotownWriters Monthly @Meetup

Saturday, Nov 10, 2018, 10:00 AM
4 Attending

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15th – NaNoWriMo Write in – Lansing

This is just one of many of the NaNoWriMo Write ins that are available in Lansing, the link contains the full list,  and other NaNoWriMo events that they will be hosting!

https://nanowrimo.org/regions/usa-michigan-lansing

18th – Detroit Public Library Welcomes Author David Baldacci – Detroit

Usually I try not to have any of the events in the same locations, but this event was too good to pass up! Possibly a once in a lifetime experience, David Baldacci will be at the Detroit Public Library to sign copies of his new book, ‘Long Road to Mercy’! Here’s the link to register!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/detroit-public-library-welcomes-author-david-baldacci-tickets-51486421272?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

26th – Barbara Oakley: Learning How to Learn – Port Huron

While this event isn’t directly linked to writing, Barbara Oakley will address how to handle procrastination, learning new material, and bad memory, all of which can cause you to put off writing! Registration and full description of the topics through the link!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/an-evening-with-author-barbara-oakley-learning-how-to-learn-tickets-51106888078?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

30th –  You Wrote a Novel… Now What? – Ann Arbor

This is a NaNoWriMo wrap up event that will have Brigit Young as a guest speaker! A great way to learn about publishing and celebrate your NaNoWriMo accomplishments! Click the link for more information and other NaNoWriMo events!

https://nanowrimo.org/regions/usa-michigan-ann-arbor

 

I hope you all enjoy these events! Don’t forget to let us know if you go to these events, or others not mentioned, by commenting on this article! We can’t wait to hear from you! Happy November everybody!

Ask An Editor

As a writer, you have questions. It’s in your nature, so why fight it? Here are some of the most frequent questions posed to editors!

How do I get published?

This is definitely the number one question I hear as an editor, and there’s no simple answer, so strap in. If you’re not choosy about where you want to be published, it’s pretty easy these days. There are more literary magazines than I’ll ever be able to count, and each one has its own standards and methods of selecting work. Frankly, I’ve seen work I considered unpublishable grace the pages of quite a few digital lit mags, so if you can slap together a moderately cohesive story and email it to the right place, you could be a published author in no time!

There’s a similar trajectory for self-published books, which has given them a less than savory reputation, despite a handful of passionate, talented writers who utilize the format to avoid book industry runarounds. If you can finish a book, you can publish it cheap, but there’s no telling whether anyone will actually buy or read the thing.

Now, if you want to write a book that a reputable publishing house will release, or a story that a notable magazine will print, you’re going to have more work ahead of you. You will likely spend more time editing than you did writing the first draft, and then there’s the process of bringing in beta readers and editors, then querying publishers or submitting to magazines. Amanda has written an extremely helpful post that lines out the basic steps that you will take on your journey:

Eleven Steps to Becoming a Published Author by Amanda Wayne

Once you have a manuscript that can ascend to the echelon of major publication, you can also try to secure an agent. Agents are a writer’s best bet for bypassing book industry gatekeepers and placing your manuscript into the right hands. They usually take around a 15% fee, but if they can lock you into a deal with a major publisher, it’s usually worth it. Querying agents is a subject for another post entirely, and fortunately Catherine has run down some of the details here:

The Big Book Proposal Part One by Catherine Foster

What’s the deal with “show, don’t tell?”

Which do you enjoy reading more: a fast-paced crime caper, or the instruction manual for your television? This is “show, don’t tell” at its most basic. Telling is essentially listing the mundane details that most readers already understand, or don’t care about, where as showing puts the reader into the action, informs the feel of the scene, and lets them fill in the blanks with their imaginations. Like any other piece of writing advice, this is a suggestion, not a hard rule. While there are many specific instances in which you will need to break down and lay out some exposition, more often than not, your writing will be more effective if you let your characters show your readers what they’re up to.

Do I really need an editor? Can’t anyone be an editor?


via GIPHY

I get it, some folks think anyone who can operate spell check on their word processor can be an editor. While that might technically be true, a good editor does so much more than line up your grammar, fix typos, and correct spelling errors. Depending on when we are brought into a project, we may help with character development, plotting, overall flow, and sometimes brainstorming if an idea isn’t working and solutions are hard to find. We embed ourselves in the tone of each piece and, like literary chameleons, adopt the author’s voice, ensuring our edits will not stand out from the surrounding text. Essentially, we’re here for you. Whatever your project calls for, editors have the skills to work with you and make it the best it can be!

What’s the most common problem editors see in writing?

Beyond the usual grammar nitpicking, there are many other elements we’re on the lookout for, but I think passive voice is probably the most common. To be fair, it’s not always an issue, which makes it tricky! But what is it? Passive voice occurs when you make the object of an action the subject of the sentence, rather than the performer of said action. Suppose your character is playing soccer. Writing “the ball was kicked by Josh” is passive. Read that out loud. It sounds a little clumsy, doesn’t it? “Josh kicked the ball” is more direct and natural. This is a frequent problem when writing in past tense, so stay vigilant and watch out for objects leading the action!

Here are a few more common issues to watch for:
Adverb overuse
Tense shifts
Word choice and repetition

How long does editing take? How much does it cost?

This varies from editor to editor, but we make it easy. Right on our homepage, you’ll find our hourly rates for projects over 2,500 words, and hour per word rates for anything up to 2,500 words. The latter also comes with a two week guarantee, and we will work with you and set a deadline for longer projects before we begin!

In addition, these posts by Catherine are extremely helpful if you’re looking for more in-depth exploration of some of the topics I covered above:

What Kind of Editor Is Right For You? By Catherine Foster 

Can You Afford A High Quality Editor? (The Answer Might Surprise You) by Catherine Foster

Have questions we didn’t answer? Drop them in the comments and we’ll address them in a future post!

Author Spotlight: James D. Taylor Jr.

James Taylor is a Renaissance man, delving into music, history, and writing in his decades long career. As a military veteran, composer, amateur astronomer, and historian, he brings a depth and breadth to his work that is priceless. His penchant for finding a good story in history and talent in finding true sources combine to create intelligent, engaging biographies that reveal his favorite aphorism: truth really is stranger than fiction. He has written four biographies detailing the lives of some of the lesser known Tudor royalty and two about the women behind the enduring Betty Boop. His fantasy novel, Checkmate, entwines Egyptian history with the lives of present-day researchers trying desperately to solve the puzzle that will save the world. You can check out his full list of publications at https://jamesdtaylorjr.com/literary.

 

What first attracted you to Tudor history?

I watched a movie about Lady Jane Grey, which fueled my curiosity… I encountered nothing but inconsistencies with everything I reviewed, such as the spelling of her name and her birth date, to mention a few. I realized that there should be a single unbiased reference available free from embellishments for researchers or just anyone interested in Lady Jane. This led to the following six books for the same reason.

How do you find the documents you use as the backbone for your histories?

Eighty percent of my research still involves reviewing material in libraries and private holdings, as many of the original documents and books are too fragile to be handled for digitalization. This may require traveling out of state. While accumulating material for Helen Kane, I located a single copy of the court trial transcript in New York. The day I was to leave, the copy disappeared. I was rather devastated as the trial transcript was to provide the foundation for the book, and it appeared the project would have to be cancelled. The library frantically searched for the missing copy, but it was never located. About three weeks passed when the librarian located another copy in a law library—that saved the project.

 

What a relief! That would have been disastrous. How do you even know where to look for these materials?

The Tudor era projects are perhaps a bit easier as there is a rather limited selection of published material through history, though sometimes scattered throughout the world. I lost a very dear friend, Dr. Charlene Berry, a research librarian at Madonna University who sometimes helped me with locating pre-1600 books. More often locating sources is like archaeology, but cleaner. I just kept digging and most of the time found nothing, but occasionally I did. I utilize Worldcat.org and Melcat for locating sources not found in local University libraries. The University of Michigan, by the way, has one of the finest libraries in the country.

Your work really brings alive the drama, intrigue, and excitement of people’s lives. How do you do it?

We too often imagine what a person’s life and times are like through the media’s portrayal, which is often very different. Pirates are a good example. Media presents them as dashing, swashbuckling Errol Flynn types instead of deadly, ruthless individuals who patrol the seas looking for easy prey. The Somali pirates we encountered off the coast of Vietnam when I served in the U.S. Navy killed two dozen refugees before we could save the remainder. Usually, fact is more interesting or even unbelievable than fiction. That is my driving motivation, to present the unembellished facts.

 

Tell me about your fascination with Betty Boop.

I felt that Mae Questel’s story had to be told, and the more research I conducted about Mae’s contributions to Betty Boop, the more untold elements I discovered about Betty Boop, which included Helen Kane. Betty Boop was and is an iconic figure known worldwide, but very little is known about her creation and the tragedy that followed. Some of her early (pre-Hayes code) cartoons are very dark even by today’s standards.

 

How on earth did you get celebrities like Woody Allen, Lou Hirsch, Doris Roberts, and Bob Newhart to discuss Mae Questel’s career with you?

I cold contacted all those who worked with Mrs. Questel based on who was still alive, and who would possibly respond; some by direct contact, through the studio, production faculty, or an agent. Constant diligence and persistence yielded those few who did respond. No one simple answer, as each individual warranted a different method. Many of the actors never met her on the set because of the scheduling of shooting times were different. Perhaps as high as eighty percent never responded. This includes family members.

 

That takes real tenacity. Any other tips for budding authors out there on how to research effectively?

Ask questions. Learn to decipher fact from fiction through persistent research. In a class I attended, a woman turned in a report based upon facts she obtained from Wikipedia. When the professor asked if her facts were true, she replied, “Yes, Wikipedia said they were.”

Oh wow. That is sad. You are quite the Renaissance man. Do you find your varied interests help when you sit down to write?

While serving in the military, I visited a dozen countries and had a chance to experience much that those cultures offered. These and life’s experiences have provided me with a valuable tool set allowing me to sometimes view things as others may not.

 

How do you organize your time for your work?

Writing biographies (to me anyway) is like patch-quilting. I will pick a pattern (subject), assemble the swatches (facts), lay them out and assemble them until the final result is something I am proud of. I maintain the discipline required to allocate time and it can vary from an hour to 14 hours a day and if travel is required, more.

 

How do you approach the editing phase of writing?

That is the most tedious aspect of any project in determining what remains or goes. Generally, if information is unclear or I am unable to validate or substantiate it, it is a time consuming decision as to the fate of that information. Depending on the complexity of the project, I will set it aside and re-review it at a later date to possibly gain a fresh perspective.

 

Thank you, James, for your time! It’s been wonderful getting to know you. I look forward to reading your upcoming publications!