Friday, May 31, 2013

Placing Setting Details for Best Effect-- The Danger of Frontloading Your Story with Description

One of my online students is writing a very good mystery.  He has plotted it well, and he's working on developing the characters.

Last semester in the twelve weeks of my online class, I focused him on pacing.  What is the best pacing for a mystery?  What elements keep the momentum going, the tension high?  What drops tension, and even distracts the reader?

I asked him to study different aspects of pacing, such as dialogue, character description, and setting.  How is each used for best emotional effect?

This writer has improved tremendously in the months we've worked together.  But he still can "frontload" his chapters with too many setting details.  I wanted him to see how they slowed the pace of his story, and begin to choose the specific details that wouldn't derail his readers. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Jonathan Odell on Living Out of the Imagination

I'm so pleased to have Jon Odell, author of The Healing and The View from Delphi, as guest this week.  Jon shares an unpublished essay that he prepared several years ago when he was working with fifth graders on "keeping their stories alive." He told me,"Kids are the real story experts and taught me more than I taught them. They caused me to re-remember and revise my recollections about writing."
In life, you can either LIVE OUT OF your imagination, or you can LIVE OUT OF your history. 

That's what adults do with much of our lives. We live out our history, doing the things that have worked once upon a time, obeying the rules, avoiding the things that didn't work and stubbornly refusing to imagine a new story for ourselves.     

Friday, May 17, 2013

Writing, Editing, and the Power of Three--A Guest Interview with Writer and Editor Jeri Reilly

Jeri Reilly is a writer and freelance editor. She is currently writing a book--a manifesto for baby boomers--with co-author Eric Utne. She blogs about word matters at and can be followed on twitter @jerireilly. She lives in Minneapolis and sometimes in Ireland.

Tell us about your background as an editor and writer.

I fell into editing because I was a writer. For many years I worked for a cultural organization where I wrote and edited all kinds of communications for management.  

One day I told my boss I needed to get some credentials--so that when I told this or that manager that they had to change a word or a sentence, I would know which rule to cite. So they wouldn't take it personally. My boss agreed, and so I flew to Chicago and took an intensive course taught by the managing editor of the Chicago Manual of Style.  

I returned to work elated: I had my University of Chicago Publishing School certificate, I knew my way around the latest edition of CMS, and I had a lovely box of (erasable) colored pencils for marking up pages.

Editing has given me a lot of freedom. It made it possible for me to live in Ireland after I left that full-time job. When I moved to a 200-year-old stone cottage halfway up a mountain, I brought my American clients with me, via dial-up internet. One of my writers, a memoirist, did not write on the computer but was undaunted by the distance between us.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Famous Writers' Desks and Workspaces-- The Importance of Having Your Own and What It Means to Your Book Project

Writers can write anywhere--right?

If you're really creative, you don't need a specific space, a writing room, or even a desk of your own.  With our iPads and smart phones and laptops, our writing can be truly portable. 

We don't need to worry about finding a special spot to grow our books.

Right?  For me . . . Wrong.

Maybe when we're dabbling, maybe when we're still in the exploring phase, we can disregard the idea of having a "room of one's own," as Virginia Woolf famously said. 

But like the difference between a date and a marriage, books are a long-term commitment to your creativity, and they will thrive if we give them a sacred space to grow.  This is something I've known for a long time, but I had to relearn it recently. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Atina Diffley, Susan Hodara, Rachael Hanel, and Eric Utne--Four Great Writing Tips from Four Memoirists

I've had the privilege of getting to know four excellent writers through my book-writing classes. 

Atina Diffley is the author of the Minnesota Book Award-winning memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn:  Organic Farming Works (University of Minnesota Press) Susan Hodara is one of the authors of the recently released Still Here Thinking of You:  A Second Chance with Our Mothers (Big Table Publishing) and a journalist who covers the arts for New York Times and other publications. Rachael Hanel is the author of We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down:  Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter (University of Minnesota Press) and twenty other books.  Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader and is currently writing memoir for Random House with the working title Confessions of a Constant Seeker (on sale fall 2014). 

I asked each to share their favorite writing tip--something that has helped them during the process of writing their books.  They came up with four very different approaches (no surprise) and quite useful techniques for book writers at any stage.

Please check out their writing and enjoy their writing tips this week!