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Know Your Local Writer: Katherine Cerulean

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Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with Athens-area writers.  The hope is to inform you about new techniques you might want to try, increase your knowledge of the individuals in your community, inspire you on your path — or at least tickle your funny bone when you learn your AWA founder was a fan of both ‘SeaQuest DSV’ and shōjo manga.  I started with the easiest writer to corral (myself), but I’m super-excited to learn about a wide range of Athens writers.  Please contact me if you’re interested in answering our writing questionnaire and being featured here as a future ‘local writer’.  Now, I apologize for the length of this post (‘she’ was a talker!).

NOTE: Special thanks to AWA co-founder Jill Hartmann-Roberts for supplying us with these wonderful questions.

Q: At what point in your life did you become a writer and how you first know you wanted to be a writer?

A: I have been making up stories all my life and never really ‘grew up’ in that regard.  Stories with He-Man and My Little Ponies became running through the fields near our home pretending to be a wild horse surviving in a vast wilderness then became making up stories about humans (!) based on the TV shows ‘Sisters’, ‘Earth 2’, and ‘SeaQuest DSV’.

But I believe I became a writer at about age 16 when I started an unfinished novel inspired by ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.

As for how I knew I wanted to be a writer — I knew I never want to stop telling stories, never wanted to pack away my playmates, my inspirations, and my heroes and become a normal adult.  Stories to me bring out the best, most thoughtful, most beautiful parts of ourselves and our world.  I have always wanted to be a writer.  Or a horse trainer.  Something dealing with unruly mammals.

Q: What books have you read that shaped you as a writer?  Which authors’ work do you admire and why? 

A: That’s an all-day-to-answer question.  I’ll give a few examples.  My mother read ‘The Secret Garden’ to me as a child.  I loved other stories but there was a wonderful plot and sense of character progression to that book, as well as a feeling that magic exists hidden in the everyday and that we transform our lives for the better if we have the courage and dedication to seek it.

‘Misery’ by Stephen King was another important book that shaped my progression as a writer.  A fantastic book that I appreciated even more when I reread it years later.  It was plot AS character, character AS plot.  I loved how Paul and Annie’s conflict felt natural, evolutionary, and destined toward doom.  Annie is one of the clearest, most memorable characters I have ever read.

Lastly, ‘Maurice’ by E.M. Forster came quite along far into my education but pretty much blew the doors off everything.  Perfect love story.  Great character study.  Bold, accessible writing.  Fearlessness.  It comforted me by helping me believe my stories and viewpoints were not too small or simple to be meaningful.  And it challenged me to write outside my comfort zone and use every bit of my intelligence and love in each word and line.

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Other authors include —

  • Dennis Lehane for the absolute beauty and economy of his sentences
  • Nick Hornby for the most relatable, flawed human characters
  • Jane Austen for defining (and redefining) perfect love stories amid human fallibility
  • J.R.R. Tolkien for writing the perfect adventure and then upping the game by adding a spirituality that breaks my heart and encourages me forward
  • Natsuki Takaya for her take on humor, romance, courage and forgiveness. And for writing an incredible novel with over 20 main characters that just happens to also have in it drawings of hot boys (manga comic ‘Fruits Basket’)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald for creating the perfect literary novel (my favorite kind of novel) and putting the words together in such a way that I’m in awe. Every.  Damn.  Time.

Q: Which piece that you have written are you most proud of and why?

A: My latest novel ‘Society & Civility’.  Honestly, I’ve become a better writer than I ever thought I’d be — and it’s only taken eighteen years!  ‘Society & Civility’ started out as a lark, my own take on the regency world of Jane Austen.  Through a LOT of hard work though, it became my most coherent piece — one filled with characters I love and scenes that speak to the challenges of being human — whatever your century or class.  And I’m not gonna lie — the love story gets me every time.  Actually, one line is my favorite and gives me hope as a writer for the future.  Our heroine to a suitor —‘Perhaps my happiness is a great mystery to you, Mr. Barnes, but I could give you a few pointers as to how to obtain it.’  So proud!

Q: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre (s) and/or format when you write?  Tell us more about which genres and/or formats are your “passion”?

A: Honestly, I gravitate toward good writing.  What I mean by this snotty-sounding answer is that I’m drawn to interesting setups with great characters but HOW the story is told, and how the lines are written, is really what draws me in when I’m reading — and writing.  You can call it literary fiction, though I recently learned about a new publishing term ‘upmarket’.  It’s kind of like adding literary to your favorite genre.  ‘Upmarket fantasy.’  Upmarket women’s fiction.’  Maybe that’s my ‘passion’.

My novel and screenwriting history goes mystery, fantasy, fantasy, love story, coming-of-age, love story, ghost story.  I am drawn to fantasy because I feel there is more to life than the obvious.  Also, I’m probably secretly a TV writer because I love characters, dialogue, and scenes SO MUCH.

Q: Have you studied writing and/or attended writing seminars, workshops or conferences?  Where and what did you learn from your classes/sessions and other writing teachers?  Did any of them stand out to you and why?

A: I’m pretty self-taught.  As someone home schooled, I didn’t have a lot of connection to the idea of advanced education — but I had a lot of passion to learn on my own.  The sum of my experiences in that realm is —

  • A two-day screenwriting class — I learned a LOT about format and plotting. As a youngin’ I gained a lot of confidence and I still use things I learned from Michael Hauge today — like that you should make your hero funny, great at what they do, or a good person.
  • Conferences — I went to about three of the Harriett Austin conferences in Athens. Great experience but one with diminishing returns.  I learned to be more outgoing, that agents and editors are real, normal human beings, and I learned more about the publishing industry.
  • A novel critique group — this is where the majority of my education took place. We were together only a few years but I wouldn’t be here without them.  Highly recommended, but you have to keep looking to find the right fit, and nowadays I’ve reached the point where I’m happier to experiment and grow without constant feedback.  But I learned so much from them.
  • Patrick LoBrutto — if you guys ever want to build a shrine to this man, I’ll be first in line to help. I took one day-long class he and Michael Seidman taught about character and at a conference I paid for a fifteen minute critique of my first novel.  Love, love, LOVE him.  He was the perfect mentor, a little challenging, encouraging (there was a scene he called quite good — still proud!), and mostly, he was super-enthused about storytelling and it was palatable and transferable.  I owe him a lot.

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Other than that, everything has come from books and articles.

Q: Have you had any formal writing jobs and/or published any of your work?  If so, tell us about your jobs and/or publications.

A: I’ve always been happy that, while learning my craft, I had a ‘day job’ that was the opposite of writing — lots of walking, up and about, physical (stocking/merchandising at a Best Buy).  That way I always came to writing fresh instead exhausted.  And it’s taken a while to achieve my goal of being able to write at a professional level.

I’ve just written a couple of pieces for BE.magizine, which is a good challenge.

I’ve self published two books —

  • ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’ — a novel about a young estate owner imprisoned by his servant in 1800s England. I tried to entice agents by calling it ‘a love story about a man trapped in a cage.’  For some reason, they weren’t biting.
  • ‘How To Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living Your Dreams’ — a self improvement book based on my 35+ years of living and constantly seeking to improve myself.

Q: What is unique about your writing process?  What works for you, and what doesn’t work? 

A: I don’t know if it’s unique, but my process is (in general) to think about a story idea for a looooong time before I actually start writing.  I find the more pre-work I do — ‘hearing’ conversations between characters, building playlists of songs that inspire me, even wearing jewelry that the hero might wear — all that really helps me know who these characters are what I actually start writing.  Mostly, I don’t do a lot of pre-writing though.  Character profiles and anything longer than a couple-of-page outline can stifle the movement of actually writing the novel.  I want a general idea of events and then I want to discover and experience the book as I write it.

Once I’m writing, I actually purposefully don’t think about where the plot is going.  I have my two page outline, but I want to keep as much spontaneity and freshness as possible while writing.  I want the characters to lead me to new discoveries.

As long as I make sure every scene and line is interesting to me, I find I don’t have to go back and cut a lot later.

But I do have to edit a lot.  I do at least five drafts.  It’s just a lot of work and I don’t know any way to make something great without pouring over every word, line, and comma (shout-out to other Oxford Comma fans!).

What doesn’t work is writing anything I don’t care about.  It’s been pointed out that pretty much every idea I’ve ever had is ‘un-commercial’.  When I write to the best of my abilities, I think I can make fascinating worlds, great characters, and unforgettable dialogue — all things I think can be commercial.  But I do have very little interest in playing it safe and doing what’s been done to death before.  I’m invigorated by possibility and discovery and showing the audience something they didn’t know they needed.

from 'A Caged Heart Still Beats'

from ‘A Caged Heart Still Beats’

Q: What is the most challenging area of writing for you?

A: Self-doubt.  I sometimes hesitate to write for fear I can’t do my ideas justice.  That leads to long breaks between stories (ironically, I’m much more confident when in the middle of writing).  I also don’t know when something needs more editing and when I’ve done all I can.  Lastly, this self-doubt sometimes leads me to not ‘hearing’ positive feedback and instead only focusing on minor criticisms.  I’m working on these issues, but it’s the work of a lifetime.

On a more practical level, plotting has been something that’s taken time to hone (characters come much more naturally to me).

The other big challenge is figuring out how to combine the touch-the-stars-magic of writing with the idea of making money from it and transforming it into my full-time job.

Q: What are you currently writing?

A: After a break of 18 years, I’ve returned to my first love — screenwriting!  I’m currently working on ‘Beaumont Lake’, a ghost story about a teenage girl forming a friendship with two ghosts while trying to avoid becoming their murderer’s next victim.  It’s a big challenge but finishing this story has been a dream of mine for a long time.  An inspiring song that sums up the mood of the piece — ‘Once Upon a Dream’ by Lana Del Rey.

Later this year, I also hope to finish the first draft of my in-progress novel TRIad, a young adult story about three brothers with superpowers.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is just beginning to write?

A: Trust yourself.  Read Brenda Ueland’s ‘If You Want to Write’.  The craft side will come along naturally as you read a lot and write a lot.  Remember that ‘Talent’ is a myth — there is only love and hard work — that’s what makes great writing.

Remember that you have amazing potential and you can do it — you just have to believe and fight and work hard and never stop following your own crazy star.  No one deserves to be here more than you.

Also, read classics, read other genres and types of entertainment.  Graphic novels, non-fiction, web cartoons — you can learn so much about dialogue from the masters of the comics page (Bill Watterson, Charles Schulz, Berkeley Breathed).

Write what you like, not what others tell you to like.  There something the world has never seen before — alive and dwelling within you — and it is something the world desperately needs.  Share your vision with us.    And remember this quote by Ira Glass —

KMBA-Ira Glass Quote

Q: How has being a writer changed your life?  

A: In every conceivable way possible.  It’s made me more curious, kinder; it has brought me friends and confidence.  It has filled my days with the most wonderful discoveries and triumphs.

Mostly though, it has allowed me to continue playtime far beyond when most people settle down and ‘become adults’.  I get to travel everywhere, meet the most amazing people, see fearsome and amazing sights, and watch the human spirit overcome every attempt to thwart it.  And then I get to transcribe those experiences and hopefully bring to readers a fraction of the joy that other peoples’ books have brought me over the years.

Another thing writing has given me is the feeling that I’m only getting started.  At 36, I’m beginning to feel like I’m getting the hang of this — let’s go knock the world off its axis!

by October Jones

by October Jones

 

A Work of HeART: Bringing Soul-Level Beauty & Meaning Into Your Writing

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In art, as in life, there is a strong pull to go with the flow.  Even that line you just read — ‘go with the flow’.  It trips off the tongue well, most people know that phrase, and it sounds like something you’d put in a self-improvement article.  And follow me for a minute — that doesn’t mean it has no value.  As part of a whole, such a line can serve a purpose, it can be a functional piece of the structure (if not a load-bearing one), and that first line does provide clarity, which is certainly a good step from the mud toward the stars.

‘From the mud toward the stars’?  What does that mean?  The long answer that, all through my teenage years, I had a little, old framed quote I had bought while browsing for antiques with my mother.  On browned, chipped paper it said — ‘Two men looked out from prison bars,One saw the mud, the other saw stars.’  This quote from Dale Carnegie inspired my line in the last paragraph.  Now, my line was okay, and you probably got the intent of it, but I kept most of the meaning of it — the old paper, memories of Mom and childhood, my room decorated with Breyer horses and my Simpsons quote-a-day calendar, the effect positivity has had on my life — my ‘good step from the mud toward the stars’ didn’t share any of that with you.

from The Anthropology Of Giving

from
The Anthropology Of Giving

I said all that to say this: That is your challenge with soul-level writing.  You seek the wide and fertile valley between the ridge of platitudes — of mediocre, well-tread thoughts  — and the distant other ridge, rich with experiences and feelings, but un-accessed — like a dream, it is a puzzle of potential.  Your goal is to travel well beyond your comfort zone, past all the clear road signs, and find the things that truly live inside your heart — and on that mountain.  And then move it onto paper in a way that shares your deepest feelings and darkest fears.  The bad news is that it’s never easy — the good news is that you are stronger than any challenge and you’re going to get some amazing writing out of it.

Step One: What lives in your heart?

My ‘my mud and stars’ line didn’t move me, probably a clue that it didn’t move you either.  Not that it was terrible, it simply was the first thing that came to mind, didn’t require any thought, and sounded like something I’d heard before.  Now, I don’t want you do go around worrying about being COMPLETELY UNIQUE because you’re you and no one else has ever the exact thoughts and feelings you do, and as the great writer Brenda Ueland said, if you write from your true self you cannot help but be unique.

That said, the stuff that comes to me too easily is to be questioned.  This is different than ‘flow’, that place where you lose time and become completely absorbed in your work — that thing is great, you should write from there whenever possible 😉  But what I watch out for is glibness, the feeling that my own work isn’t touching my soul, but sliding past it onto the page.

from weheartit.com

from
weheartit.com

Soul-level writing by definition is going to get under your skin, it’s going to unsettle you.  Whether you’re trying to express a murderer’s remorse in a novel, a newlywed’s first dance in a song, or your own emotions about your mother’s death for a memoir, you need to go beyond ‘elevator conversation’.  This isn’t the canned 30-second response you’d give your co-worker, this is about what you really, truly feel in your heart.

Let’s say the idea of a ‘first dance’ at a wedding — what if that idea makes you think of how happy they are now, but how sad they’ll be at the end of their lives together, when they are old and sick and one of them dies.  WOAH.  But you mustn’t think, ‘Boy, I suck at writing love songs.’  Because you don’t — that’s a potentially powerful perspective.  I say potentially because you need to bring that emotional feeling down from the distant ridge and pull it into the valley of connection, leading it toward the well-trod ridge — but only far enough for people to understand what you’re feeling and feel it too.  For me, loss is just about loving something so much that you never want to miss a moment of it.  I was home schooled and my mother didn’t work, so when she was alive I always said, ‘I could never say we didn’t have enough time together.’  But when she suddenly died in middle of the most beautiful April I ever saw, all those words fell away — you always want more time.

So maybe you dig into your soul and start writing about that wedding day dance, and how there’ll never be enough dances with the ones we truly love.  If what you write honestly moves you, then it WILL move someone else.  I wouldn’t worry about how many someone elses.  For me, I’m often just looking for at least one other soul who feels as I do.  After I finished my 1950s coming-of-age story ‘Fall Street’, fellow writer Jill Hartmann-Roberts read it and wrote me a ‘fan letter’ talking about the characters and moments she really enjoyed.  My private thought was ‘Whew!  Someone understands, someone gets it.  Now I can go write the next book.’

I often think about ‘The Writer’s Journey’ (a great book) when I think about this sort of heartfelt work.  Based on Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero With a Thousand Faces’, the book talks about the 12 stages of the hero’s journey.  And I think any time we journey inward — past the platitudes and the ‘safety’ of our hard shells — we are the hero of our own story, and we are going into a place few dare to venture.  So be kind to yourself as you travel toward the things that really move you, rest often, and know that —

from piccsy.com

from
piccsy.com

A word about difficult stories: People often want to write about the toughest, hardest parts of their lives and that’s great.  But those parts often involve other people, people who might get mad, or upset, or even sue you to keep their stories from being told.  So you’re faced with a choice.  Anne Lamott said “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”  I agree with this but you must be willing to deal with what you create.  For myself, peace and tranquility are highly valued commodities and so I wish to ‘First do no harm’.  My realm is fiction so I don’t feel a great need to name names and share my past.  If I wanted to write something factual, I’d probably change names, release it under a pen name, or alter details and release it as fiction.  I think you have the right to write anything you want, and writers worry too much about being sued.  But people probably don’t worry enough about WHY they want to expose other people’s faults in public writings — it will hurt feelings, may even feel like lies to some involved, and it won’t make you ‘even’ or vindicated.  If possible, write difficult factual stories for yourself first, then maybe ask a trusted third-party who knows the situation you’re writing about to read it and give you their opinion.  You do own your stories, and they are a powerful, sharpened sword — just make sure you use it to cut the bonds that imprison you and others who are suffering and not to take arms against those who have wronged you — you’re the hero, and you’re better than that.  And the world always needs more heroes.

Step Two: How to let this dangerous thing out into the word.

Now, first you want to be able to think and delve and dive into what really matters to you.  But you’re a writer — you don’t just want to travel into that wild land of the interior to experience, you also want to take photos, record audio, and hopefully even trap the beast and bring it back for exhibition to the masses.

This is where inspiration meets craft.  While there is no wrong way to write and express your feelings (especially with journaling and private work), if your intention is to move others, you’re gonna need some moves yourself.  Bad-ass writer-extraordinaire moves.

from buzzfeed.com

from
buzzfeed.com

I LOVE this quote.  Partly because it illustrates for me how the writer’s job is twice as hard — we both need to discover true meaning AND write about it in such a way that it speaks to others.  Firstly, I believe writing things that matter and move you is imperative to connection.  But craft has to be right up there too.  To quote Branda Ueland again, you need to work with all of your love and imagination.  To me that means with all your ‘soul’ + ‘knowledge’.

Moving from pure feeling to great writing reminds me of a awesome section from Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’ — “Others hold forth at open mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about “my angry lesbian breasts” and “the tilted alley where I cried my mother’s name.”  Writers form themselves into the pyramid we see in all areas of human talent and human creativity. At the bottom are the bad ones. Above them is a group which is slightly smaller but still large and welcoming; these are the competent writers. They may also be found on the staff of your local newspaper, on the racks at your local bookstore, and at poetry readings on Open Mike Night. These are folks who somehow understand that although a lesbian may be angry, her breasts will remain breasts.”

Good soul-level writing is created much like all good writing — by reading a lot of awe-inspiring work, writing a lot, and always seeking to improve oneself (like by attending a class or reading a how-to blog!).  But I’ll share a few things related to craft (and inspiration) that I’ve learned:

How to Write a Work of HeART:

  • Figure out what moves you.  This involves a lot of patience.  You may have to let your mind wander, stalking the gaps, and figuring out the very thing you don’t want to think about (like death in our ‘first dance’ example).  You may not cry, but you’ll probably feel like you want to — that’s the sweet spot — follow your feelings.
  • Trust.  My mother Dell Ratcliffe said (about animal communication) “Above all, TRUST.  Trust that the process is real, that it works, that the information is valid.  Go easy on yourself.  Besides trust, important words are IMAGINE, OPEN, ALLOW, EXPAND.”  She also said that “Language is just the symbolic way we communicate, not the communication itself.  The communication is always heart based, made up of feelings that we then have to put into words to share with someone else.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself!
  • Balance.  You want to be able to go deep — but honestly going deep should just be part of the ebb and flow of a story, song, or memoir.  Even a poem, full of feeling, builds to its moments of impact.  Imagine being pummeled with a blunt weapon, like a thick tree branch — you would feel it a lot at first, then less and less as you sank into unconsciousness.  If you pile one emotional bombardment after another, your audience will become dulled to the pain — or stop reading altogether from exhaustion.  Instead, soul-level writing should be about connecting and feeling everything more, higher highs and lower lowers.  Instead of clubbing them with intense emotion, use it like a rapier — they look down, surprised at the tiny wound, almost shrugging it off, and then the blood runs red across their clothing, and they stagger to the ground, punctured, incapacitated by the tiniest of motions.
  • Look to your favorites.  Try to figure out what makes a book special to you.  Often it comes down to moments and lines of emotion.  One small scene can imprint itself over a whole work — even a single line can turn a work into a favorite.  Readers often desire what they’ve seen before, but what they really desire is something that goes beyond what they’ve seen.  They want to connect and experience the world anew, they want someone to show them they’re not alone, and that the world is as broad and deep and beautiful as they hoped and feared.
  • Go too far.  We often self-censure, afraid of upsetting people, or looking stupid, or not ‘playing to our strengths’.  But everything of value I’ve written and done has been (at least partially) outside of my comfort zone.  Heartfelt storytelling isn’t just about sadness and pain — it’s about crazy, silly comedy; great love stories; and sharing your uncommon beliefs.  Believe me, sometimes you’ll fall flat on your face, but far more often you’ll connect with people in a startling way.  I tell the story all the time of being in my first critique group, and reading a section that ‘wandered’ and gave a couple of pages of back story about one of my villains.  I thought I’d be chastised and told to ‘Get back on track!’  Instead, everyone praised it and loved it.  The lesson: Trust that if it interests you you should write it.  And then you should have the guts to share it.  Readers get underestimated every day — give them MORE than they’re used to.  And you can always keep in mind the Hemingway quote — “Write drunk, edit sober.”  I’m not suggesting actual imbibing, but instead writing as uncritically and with as much passion as possible with your first draft and returning with a clear head and a cool eye to edit and improve later.
  • Be subtle and leave things unsaid.  One of my favorite new concepts is ‘wobble’, the idea of pushing storytelling almost to an unsustainable point — a spinning plate or top that starts to shake — and keeping the audience engaged at that spot with you.  At its best, you are taking them to places and experiences they haven’t often seen.  Another important tool is leaving things unsaid.  We can be so excited to share our feelings that we tell everything, but in writing, don’t forget the power and connection of less.  I just heard an amazing exchange on ‘To the Best of Our Knowledge’ on NPR.   Anne Strainchamps was speaking to Marwa al-Sabouni.  Marwa al-Sabouni and her family have chosen to stay in Syria during the years of fighting and bombing of her country. Marwa al-Sabouni has her PhD. in Islamic architecture and wrote a memoir about architecture and destruction in Homs, Syria called “The Battle for Home.”  At the end of the interview Anne Strainchamps said, “One last question: We’ve talked a lot about destruction and loss; I’m sure there are still moments of beauty.  I’m sure there are still things that are beautiful.  Can you tell me about one thing, something you’ve seen that makes you happy?”  Now that was a good, thoughtful, end-of-the-interview question — I was interested.  But what happened next blew me away.  There was dead air, a long pause, something you so rarely hear on the radio.  Then Marwa al-Sabouni replied, “Frankly, I can’t think of one.”  There was another long pause, then Strainchamps said,”I’m so sorry.”  Marwa al-Sabouni said, “Me too.  But hopefully, there will be again.”  A common answer about a lone, beautiful building caught in the sunlight or birds flying or children laughing — I would have probably forgotten, but I might never forget these few words about the reality of living in a war zone.  An amazing example of the power saying less.
  • People want more.  And finally a story about sharing your soul with people through writing —
from STYLECASTER

from
STYLECASTER

Society & Civility was a novel I started as a lark — I love BBC movies and Jane Austin books set in the early 1800s, especially those with romance and strong heroes.  The idea had been floating around in my head for only about six months (I’ve worked on some stories for ten years) but in fall of 2014 I started to tell the tale of Ann, who was raised as a gentleman’s daughter in the country and then challenged and changed by her first social season in London.  The novel also involves several suitors vying for her hand and her heart.

Well, I did my damndest and thought I’d written a quite good story (I even re-read it several times just for fun over the winter months).  By next summer I was ready for my first three bata readers to tell me what they thought.  Yeeouch!  They were of one mind, really enjoying the story as a whole, but hating the modern ‘twist’ of having Ann start a sexual affair with one of the men in the middle of the book.  Now, I could have just stood by my work and called it finished, but their feedback intrigued me (after making me gnash my teeth and question my abilities as a storyteller).  I had thought it was great, but they were looking for more.  Beyond.  Their other comments were so positive that I wanted to create a story they’d enjoy from first to last.

But altering the middle changed my feelings about what happened in the last third of the book — the threads leading out of their (now chaste) relationship changed everything.  I started writing a new ending, and was often frustrated that I couldn’t make the suitor who was ‘supposed to’ propose.  He just wouldn’t do it — wouldn’t tie up my story in a neat little bow.  I trusted his reaction, rolled around with the problem, and eventually my frustration became the feelings of another suitor in the story — and that pushed the love story to interesting, challenging new places.  It became a book I loved much more than my first — unchallenged — take on Ann’s life.

My final lesson of trust still lay before me.  I had a last scene in mind, a shift in time and place.  But originally I thought the final emotion might be a revelation of Ann being pregnant.  I’ve certainly seen some sweet endings that hold on that hopeful note.  But it felt wrong — it didn’t tie into Ann’s hopes or struggles.  More importantly, I’m not having kids and I lot of my female friends might not be either — and yet we are dogged by endless images that perpetuate the myth that the emotional and societal apex of a woman’s life is becoming a mother.  That felt wrong.  It doesn’t jell with my and my sister’s life — full of adventure and discovery — and it does a disservice to the accomplishments and spirit of my friends without children (male and female).  ‘Well, shit,’ I thought (this statement is often the predecessor of hard work and good writing).

So one morning while my sister was working the morning shift at Best Buy, I went to Starbucks to work on my final draft.  As I got to the last few pages, I felt tired of being in one place and left, climbing a super-steep hill behind the Best Buy to sit on the edge of the woods, in the middle of the city and yet apart from it in these couple of acres of pine trees and old barbed wire fences stretching back to the 1950s.  I sat against a giant fallen tree.  I had two hours till I picked up my sister.  I had an ending to write.

I had begun to feel that I had moved on to a new awareness in my writing.  Society & Civility finished up an unofficial ‘love stories’ trilogy and my next novel would be very different from those three.  I felt like I’d already moved on and yet here I was, ending this story anew.  I had decided to dig deep and evoke some of what I was feeling about life in these last few pages.  It seemed a terrible idea on the surface — this was a light, romantic story and I was about to change course and dump some self-improvement mumble-jumbo into the last few pages.  Terrible idea.  And yet.  It was my book, and the worst that could happen was to be told that it didn’t work and try again.  And I’d already heard that before so — big deal.  My grandmother Bernice always said of crocheting — ‘Be a cheerful ripper,’ when you have to take out mistakes, so I just trusted myself and gave it a shot.

I looked from my high, high vantage point out at the piercing blue skies, the birds, the bugs crawling under my legs.  The soft needles and the hard bark under my fingertips.  I thought about what mattered most to me, how lucky I felt to alive here in this moment doing what I loved.  I thought about the characters’ journeys and what they’d learned.  I thought about the people I loved and the people I’d lost.  And I wrote — imperfectly, full of emotion, and sometimes through tears.  I thought it was all silly and a waste of time, bound to be thrown away when I read it later.  But I wrote on.  My time dwindled — I was in ‘flow’ as never before — 1 hr left, 30 min, 5 min.  I raced the clock.  I finished my words, my thought, my story.  I was spent and unsure.  I still believed it to be a supreme waste of time — but an enjoyable one on such a beautiful day, and a harmless indulgence.

A few days later I returned when the heated words had cooled, already planning how I might chuck them and leave an abbreviated, more standard ending in their wake.  But there on the page — amid dust and debris I would wipe away and polish in the next few days — there on the page stood something real and meaningful.  Whether or not anyone else would find significance in what I had written would not be known for weeks.  But somewhere on that windy hilltop, straddling the massive shopping center below and the wild woods behind, I had caught a piece of my soul, and my characters’ souls and twisted them together onto the page.  It felt like luck but I also knew I had climbed long and hard to end up in a place to be so lucky.

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Writing from the heart is a lifelong pursuit.  Trust yourself, your instincts, and write your first drafts with passion.  Then edit your stories using all your experience and judgement.  Never settle and never forget that the world becomes more beautiful every time you let us see what you’ve been hiding inside your heart.

I will also say that great writing is too hard.  Every single time.  If you are pushing against the limits of what you can do, then by definition it will never be easy.  When I wrote my first novel ‘Other Gods’, I didn’t think much about the editing process.  But once I’d been through multiple edits, two things stood out in my mind: the story was getting better than I ever thought it would be and — I must be doing it wrong — because it was too hard.  The professionals didn’t have to go through this, did they?  Surely there was an easier way, a shortcut?  But as Beverly Sills said, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”  And if being a great writer is your goal, you can handle a little ‘too hard’.  In fact, you’ll eat ‘too hard’ for breakfast because, to paraphrase a popular fitness quote, “Great writing is hard.  Being a lousy writer is hard.  Pick your hard.”

By serendipity, the final thought on this topic comes from my grandmother Mary, who passed away exactly a week ago as I write this (she passed on April 6th, 2016).  My sister Sarah was cleaning out her (Sarah’s) room and discovered a message in a frame behind a picture my grandmother had painted for me many years ago.  Her message —

“April — 1994  To Katherine — Well, I had so many mistakes making this “duck?” that I was rubbing the paper away!  This is a reminder that all gifts aren’t perfect — but full of love —- Love you, Grammy”

May you share all your gifts, even the imperfect ones, with great love.

All the best,

Katherine

blog.zerodean.com

blog.zerodean.com

So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?

from fantasy-faction.com

from fantasy-faction.com

We recently had two classes at the library.  The first was an AWA round-table event about ebooks and self publishing, which had a great turnout and turned into a lively discussion.  Click here to learn more about How to Create and Publish an Ebook.

Our second talk was a ‘Lunchtime Learning’ event the library asked us to do on the topic of writing fantasy.  As the audience included wee newbies as well many-times-over published writers, it presented a unique challenge.  Below are the handouts for the class if you’re interested.  The first is ‘How to Write a Novel’ — a brief overview for the utter newbie.  Then, having taught them everything they could possibly need to know about that topic (in one page, no less!), we moved on to the second handout ‘So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?’  We had a great group and a lot of fun.

Our last class of the season is ‘A Work of HeART: Bringing Soul-Level Beauty & Meaning Into Your Writing‘, and it will take place on Saturday, April 16, at 4:00 PM at the Athens Regional Library meeting rooms.  All AWA classes are free.  More info here.

How to Write a Novel

By Katherine Cerulean

Come up with an idea.  Read a lot, especially books outside of your favorite genre (fantasy, crime, young adult etc).  When you have an idea, ask yourself — who has the most to gain (or lose) in this situation?  A little fish goes on an adventure across the ocean.  Who — besides him— has the most to lose?  His dad, who wants to find his only child and bring him home safely.  It’s been said that the best book to write is the one you want to read  — but can’t find because it hasn’t been written yet.  Go write it!

Really think about your characters.  Who is living in your world?  Who’s the hero?  Do they have flaws like we all do?  The ‘ordinary world’ of the Hero’s Journey storytelling model has the hero ‘making do’ — they think things are fine, but really their world is about to change in big ways.  Think about Rick in ‘Casablanca’ — he needs to confront his past, and become a more whole person to move forward.  Find songs, make playlists, buy jewelry that you think your character would wear — get into their heads and discover their voices.

Outline your story.  This will help you know where you are and inspire you to keep moving forward.  You can outline every scene and plot development but you don’t have to.  Google the ‘Snowflake method book outline’ if you want a very detailed outline.  Otherwise, work on a 1-2 page outline or synopsis.  Writing down the major plot points of a favorite movie (is if you were telling the movie to a friend) can help you learn the process.  Just remember, a good outline is a roadmap — not a blueprint — and like any roadmap, if something interesting catches your eye you should follow it and forget the plan.  Just get back on track with the roadmap after your side adventure.

Your only goal is getting to ‘The End’.  As a beginning novelist, the idea of completing a book can be daunting.  On your first draft, don’t worry about perfect spelling, editing, etc.  Follow your outline — as long as it’s still exciting to you — and head for the finish line.  Set aside some time every week to write.  This is your dream — and you can make it happen!  A novel is usually at least 75,000 words long but it can be as short as 45,000 words (Think of ’The Bridges of Madison County’).

Go through a second draft.  After you reach ‘The End’ pop a bottle of bubbly, enjoy a fancy dinner, and put your manuscript in a drawer.  Leave it there at least two weeks, maybe even a month, and then pull it out and reread it.  Look for big problems: did one of your characters disappear halfway through the book?  Add them into the later sections — or cut them entirely.  Does the beginning make sense now that you’re written the end?  Does the book start too soon — can you cut the opening?  And what about ‘theme’?  If your story became a coming of age story while you were writing it, is that clear from the beginning?  The second draft is a great time to add in or cut large sections of the story if need be.

Do a third draft.  Time to polish.  Run ‘spellcheck’, then read it carefully to check all those  wrong words it missed — then/than, there/their/they’re.  Consider reading your work aloud to yourself — sentences and especially the way characters speak will sound right or wrong when heard out loud.  Do any last research you need.  Basically, make it the best book you can write.  Then…

Find some beta readers.  Beta readers are your first ever readers (yay!) and they are doing you a big favor.  As proud as you are of your book, they don’t know anything about it and are probably really busy in their own lives.  So appreciate them.  3-5 beta readers are the ideal number.  Try to find people who are kind, your friends, smart, and hopefully will give you honest feedback.  It helps if they like your kind/genre of story.  Take feedback cheerfully.

Do a fourth draft.  Good golly!  Yes, that’s a lot of rewrites.  But good readers will point out issues and problems you might want to fix.  I say might because in the end, it’s your call.  Also, read the whole thing again, checking for spelling and grammar errors.

Sent it to agents, publishers, or self-publish.  You did it!

Write another book!  Check out the Athenswritersassociation.wordpress.com for help. 

So You Want To Write a Fantasy Novel?

By Katherine Cerulean

Fantasy is a genre of novel and it includes such sub-genres as ‘Urban Fantasy’ (modern day and set in the city), ‘High Fantasy’ (elves and dwarves and wizards — oh my!), ‘Young Adult Fantasy’ (Hunger Games/The Maze Runner/Twilight), and even ‘Magical Realism’ (usually a character-centered drama with the merest hint of magic [her grandmother caused it to rain every time she baked gingersnaps]).

Fantasy is exceptional because it allows us to dream bigger, hope more, live greater adventures, and experience things that could never be in this world.  When we are young, fantasy stories fill our lives — animals talk, drive, solve mysteries.  And even as older children — Neverland, Narnia, OZ, and Hogwarts are as real as Main Street and our school.  And in the last 15 years fantasy has blown up as a mainstream category for adults — with books, TV shows, and movies full of vampires, werewolves, post-apocalyptic trials, and superheroes are becoming more and more common.

So what do you need to know about this unique form of storytelling?

World-building in fantasy is paramount.  You get to make the rules!  But the flip side is that the drama, plot, and character growth is only as strong as the world you build.  Think about all the details in Harry Potter — often the most important storytelling devices were tiny aspects of magic.  And you have to know what your hero can and can’t do (and explain it to your readers) so they can enjoy the story and the world you made.

Readers want to connect to your character.  This may be true in all fiction, but in fantasy you’re asking the reader to take a leap of faith into a strange, new land where everything we know may not apply.  That’s a lot to ask.  But a great lead character can help suck readers in, and often learn about the new world at the same time your hero does (think about how many fantasy stories start with the lead character embarking on a journey, entering a new, dangerous land, or discovering a power/family/purpose they never knew they had).

Go for the ‘WOW!’  The only limits in fantasy are the limits of your imagination.  So don’t settle for what you’ve seen done before; give us new creatures, devastating choices, weird powers, unusual rules, and awesome fight scenes.  Expand your mind — if you read only 100 young adult fantasy novels, your work will sound like the rest.  Instead, read Shakespeare, watch ‘Spongebob’, listen to murder ballads from the 1920s, play ‘Portal’, and read the comic ’Fables’.  The more influences you have, the most interesting your work can become.

Find a plot that MOVES.  Tolkin said, ‘A journey is a wonderful thing for a writer.’  Most fantasy is plot-based versus character-based which means that what the characters do is more important that who they are.  This isn’t to say your characters don’t matter, but they have to be taking an active role in their world and trying to change things.  Think of Katniss in the Hunger Games: in the very beginning she’s hunting to feed her family, saves her sister’s life, and starts working to survive the games.  She’s active from minute one — and we can’t wait to see what happens next — what she makes happen next.

Know the rules, then break them.  If you want to make every character in your story named something like Xaxzxa Axzxaxzz, then you need to ask yourself two questions — Are the fantasy books I love doing this?  And if not, why not?  Very strange names, 68 main characters, a 1,000,000 word count (most books are between 75,000 and 150,000 words), and other out-there ideas aren’t necessarily bad, but they are all very challenging for readers.  Even the best, most experienced writers would hesitate to make their book hard to read, so just ask yourself if you can do anything to make the reader have a more enjoyable time.

Remember that fantasy is often about INNER conflict.  Sci fi tends to be about the outer/other — what’s in space, on other worlds, and how we treat those who are different than ourselves.  But fantasy is about US, who we really are, what destiny lies out there waiting for us, and what good and evil powers reside within our souls.  While the plot (action) is most important, characters who learn, are challenged, and grow are why this genre is so memorable.  You can also make the implicit explicit — the boy who doesn’t want to grow up, the girl who discovers ‘There’s no place like home’, the boy who makes his father proud by taming a dragon instead of killing one, and the young man who carries his father’s ‘sword’ and says ‘I am a Jedi like my father before me’.  Anything going on in your life, anything that hurts and makes you feel, can probably be turned on its head and become a great fantasy curse/power.  As any scholar can tell you, vampire and werewolf stories are really about our animal natures vs. our civilized world.

Fantasy is a part of our history, our heritage.  Almost all of us grew up hearing fairytales.  And myths and legends, from The Odyssey to the alligators in New York sewers, have been popular for thousands of years.  ‘Once upon a time,’ invites everyone in, and the human mind often welcomes the chance to hear something beyond belief.

 You are unique.  Therefore, your story is unique.  No one in the history of the world has ever thoughts the same as you, enjoyed the same things as you, or liked the same triple-decker ice cream cone flavors as you (you freak!).  So don’t worry about all the other fantasy stories out there.  They call it ‘stalking the gaps’ — look for the story you wish existed but that you can’t find.  Then think of a plot and characters that make you excited, and write the story you wouldn’t want to stop reading (hint: it’s the one you can’t stop writing or thinking about).  As writer Brenda Ueland said, ‘Everyone is original, unique, and has something important to say.’

You can make the world a better place.  Good writing, and great storytelling, is far too rare.  And you never know how many people might desperately need your special, magical story in their lives.  J.K. Rowling was out of work, and surely very busy, but she took the time to write down little Harry Potter’s first story, and millions of lives are better for it.  Fantasy readers are people who believe in the power of magic — some are young, and some simply never stopped believing that the world is full of great and beautiful things.  I think that makes fantasy novels unique because its readers believe that the book you write can change their life, can alter their path, sometimes — it can even save a life.  You should have the most fun you can while writing your fantasy novel, but you should never, ever — even for a second — think that it’s a silly thing to do.  You might just change the world, for the better, forever.  At least you’ll be able to say you made one dream come true — yours.  Best of luck.

Please contact me at Katherinecerulean@gmail.com with any questions and get more support for free by joining the Athens Writers Association — athenswritersassociation.workpress.com.

The Villain’s Viewpoint

Just before Halloween, as darkness fell, a secretive group (AWA writers) met in a large, intimidating building (the local library) to discuss a gallery of murderers, psychopaths, and all-around bad eggs.  A great time was had by all, and we came away with some new perspectives on one of the most important characters in any novel.

Below is a short handout I made for the class — hopefully it will inspire some deviant thinking of your own.

 The Villain’s Viewpoint

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First, some terms —

  • VILLAIN — a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot
  • NEMESIS — a long-standing rival; an archenemy.  A function of the Nemesis character (in the Hero’s Journey) is to embody the Hero’s inner conflict
  • ANTI-HERO — a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes
  • THRESHOLD GUARDIAN —  A figure or event that tests the resolve of a Hero as he pursues his destiny and/or his goal
  • ANTAGONIST — a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary

When thinking about viewpoints, it’s important to remember some villains don’t have them — the aliens from the Alien series, tornadoes and other disasters, dangerous animals, and even total personifications of evil like Sauron (from The Lord of the Rings) — they don’t get human personalities and weaknesses (though characters like Saruman and Sméagol do).  They may still be a character in your novel though, just in a way in which their unfathomable, unstoppable nature is their forefront characteristic.

To explore why our villains do what they do, you must have empathy for them, or at least sympathy.  Who were they as children?  Even if someone was ‘born evil’ would that not arouse your sympathy and make you wonder how they grew up, who they loved, who could never love them back?  Even an evil you can never understand still can arouse a feeling of compassion — their lives (if only their internal landscape) must be a terrible place to live.

Also remember that the villain’s journey is the reverse image of the hero’s (one’s victory is the other’s defeat).  Who are they when no one’s looking?

Here’s some examples —

  • GlaDOS (Portal) is a killer robot but she believes she’s just ‘testing’ our hero through a series of life-and-death trials. GlaDOS represents a ‘lawful evil’ (an alignment from Dungeons & Dragons) who believes she’s following the rules and being a good employee.  She’s also very funny, which is good since the hero doesn’t talk.6e72a8de5dfa3668281cd8cfea6831a2
  • Professor Moriarty (Sherlock) is of superior intelligence and illuminates the path Sherlock could have taken (shadow self) if his beliefs in the ‘moral law’ had not prevented him. These types often see themselves as above society (Magneto’s homosuperiors from The X-Men) — they believe that they have either freed themselves or been born exempt from the rules others must follow.  If everyone is trying to achieve money, safety, and happiness they reason, shouldn’t the smartest (strongest etc.) win the biggest piece of the pie?85170947a9c72916ee5b5c6fa6a2f026
  • Harvey Dent (Batman) represents chaos (as Batman does order) but he also shows a good man transformed by loss into a villain. Chance turned Dent evil and chance is what he gives his victims via the coin toss.  The overprotective father who limits his younger son’s actions while mourning his elder son’s death could have the same reasoning.  The sense that retribution is necessary can create villains where heroes once stood.66b122ce13521ae8465d4a4f1184d673
  • Ursula (The Little Mermaid) is a pretty simple villain and yet she also stands in for an important archetype — the villain as guardian. Changing from a mermaid to a person is not something people should take lightly.  Any time your hero seeks out magic, money, or power they don’t understand, they may be striking a ‘Faustian bargain’.  Even though Ursula wants revenge on the sea king, her role is an important one: she is the holder of great magic.  Cerberus, guardian of the underworld and many other Threshold Guardians also challenge the hero, temping them to make a choice that will change their lives forever.  The villain may feel the hero deserves the price they pay for their foolishness.bd70b46e58e8760f895a77b53149cbe6
  • Loki (Thor) is the brother of Thor, God of Thunder.  Loki seeks the approval of their father Odin and to protect his homeland of Asgard.  He and his brother are alike in their desires.  But Thor is a strong, brave warrior in a culture that honors those traits, whereas Loki is sly, smart and good at magic.  One could argue that ‘chance’ turned Loki into a villain, but unlike Harvey Dent, cruelty and neglect (from Odin and Thor) were what changed Loki, not an accident.  Loki truly believes that Thor is the wrong man to lead Asgard and so acts from a hero’s POV — he’s trying to prove himself while saving his people.  His actions are more interesting because what he is doing is so wrong while he believes that he’s doing right.  Some antagonists will also work against our hero while believing they are doing it for the greater good.  Agent Sadusky (National Treasure) knows our hero wants to steal the Declaration of Independence and so is pursuing our hero, not knowing that the hero is trying to keep the Declaration from a group of thieves who will destroy it.  Sudusky’s limited POV makes him work against our hero — much as Loki’s inability to imagine Thor growing into a great leader limits his perspective.8951e6104707d54b865cf972803cdf1b
  • The Joker (The Dark Knight) also represents chaos in Batman’s life, but he has no sympathetic back story — in fact he tells many versions of ‘how I these scars’. One may be true, or none.  The Joker just wants to watch the world burn.  He is ourselves turned loose — instead of using his unmooring from society to achieve power or money — he just does what brings him glee at the given moment.  There is something very appealing in letting ourselves go — this kind of character is enjoying every minute of the ride — and even the end may not bother him.  For this type of character just remember to dig deep into their happiness — they may be doing the most appalling things but loving it.f8ebd12ed0f285adc863002cec7344a9
  • Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal) is smart, cultured, polite — and he eats people. He also is interested in our hero Will Graham and honestly believes that he can help Will break out of his shell as a ‘good person’ and become more —  more like Hannibal — and self actualized.  While Hannibal makes some choices just ‘to see what would happen’, he seems to sincerely want to help Will transform.  That Will neither wants nor may survive such attention is of little matter — Hannibal sees himself as giving Will a chance to better himself — the rest is up to Will.  The tough drill sergeant who tries to ‘break’ our hero, or Annie Wilkes’ (Misery) desire to improve her favorite author (and his writing) are other examples of mentor/villains ‘helping’ our heroes, even to the edge of death.873a5f419fe71362ae6c840364dc0d1e

In the end, villains are some of the most colorful, exciting characters to write.  They don’t have to play by the rules and they give us writers a chance to explore the shadowy underside of the human psyche.

But remember to make them human first and foremost.  If a motivation wouldn’t be good enough for your hero (‘he likes money’) then it’s not good enough for your villain.  They may act crazy, but a good villain is using logic — no matter how skewed — to try to achieve his aims, be it for order, respect, illumination, teaching others a lesson, protecting what he loves, having a good time, or changing our hero into a better person.

That the villain should fail will be your story, to know that his failure is a tragedy shall be your goal.

Lord Vader by Marie Bergeron

Lord Vader by Marie Bergeron

Note:  We have now completed our fall schedule of free writing classes.  Please look at our ‘Upcoming Events’ page to see what we have planned so far for Winter/Spring 2016.  And as always, anyone interested in teaching a class is encouraged and appreciated.  Please contact me at Katherinecerulean@gmail.com to arrange a time and date.

Let Your Characters Plot Your Novel

For those of you who couldn’t make it to AWA founder Katherine Cerulean’s class at the Athens Regional Library in August, please enjoy this handout — 

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Plot is one of those words that can strike fear in a writer’s heart –at least, it does for me.  Especially when I was a beginning writer.  Characters I like, dialogue is fun, words are magic — but plot, plot is tricky.  Plot is so bold, so important.  Plot’s what happens, what surprises people, what keeps people reading until they fall in love with your characters.

It is said that there is really only one plot – the resolution of a problem.  It’s also been said there’s 2, 3, 7, 20, and 36 plots — just so you know, options.  Before we talk about our characters, let’s talk a little about plot.

What is a plot?

The main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

Ernest Lehman said —

  1. ‘In the first act, it’s who are the people and what is the situation of this whole story.
  2. The second act is the progression of that situation to a high point of conflict and great problems.
  3. And the third act is how the conflicts and problems are resolved.’

What does character-driven and plot-driven mean?

‘Character-driven writing is focused on the characters and the internal change, more so than the events and situations that take place while plot-driven writing is focused on the actual happenings and the external changes of the story.’ — from thescriptlab.com

More ‘literary fiction’ is character based, while some genre fiction is action-packed and the characters don’t learn or grow as much.  In an action-filled story, your characters may still make important decisions that change the plot, but they are less likely to change themselves in major ways (think about Indiana Jones or James Bond: they don’t change [much] but their choices and actions still save the girl, the day, or the world [the external challenge].)

Do I HAVE to plot out my novel?

No.  In ‘On Writing’, Stephen King writes, “Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”

From nybookeditors.com — ‘But for writers striving to create something unique and surprising, the kind of work that will grab the attention of agents and editors, the thorough plotting and planning can be a matter of life and death. By that, I mean that planning your novel ahead of time increases its likelihood of being dead on arrival.  It may fly in the face of your tried and true approach, but I’m going to ask you to consider a different tack: Don’t plan. Write.’

Having a couple of page outline can help you understand the major ‘beats’ of a novel, and give you a distant landmark to head toward, but too much planning can ruin the moment.  Do what feels comfortable to you, but be open to feeling uncomfortable as well.  I was recently writing the last third of a novel when a conversation with my sister led to a stunning revelation about my story.  I HAD to go in an entirely different direction than I’d been planning.  I was quite concerned that I was ruining my book, but I trusted myself, kept writing, and now it’s my favorite novel I’ve written.

When in doubt, trust yourself.  Or, as I’ve had written on an index card on my wall for almost 15 years — ‘Trust the story’.  The true, beating heart of your story will never lead you astray.

How do I let my characters ‘plot my novel’?

Basic-plot-structure

The idea here is to relax and trust.  If you think about your story, the story world, and each of your main characters, you have all the ingredients needed to plot your story as you’re writing it.  It’s been said that ‘In life, one thing happens after another.  In fiction, one thing happens because of another.’  Your life is being plotted out all the time, sometimes intentionally by you (the protagonist), and sometimes by others (supporting characters), and sometimes by acts outside human control (your two page ‘blueprint’).

Just remember that we are in control a lot more than you’d think.  Look at these scenarios —

  • Car broke down?  . . . and your hero hadn’t changed the oil in the last 6 years.
  • He had a heart attack — after decades of a two-Big-Mac-a-day habit.
  • Your hero got turned down for admission to Princeton for having bad grades.
  • His wife leaves him.

In the first three, the hero made choices (somewhere along the way) that led to these seemingly out-of-their-hands situations.  But what about the last one?  Did he take his wife for granted?  Stop saying thank you and asking how her day was?  Or did she meet someone else, become wrapped up in a daydream, and leave a great life and husband?  Maybe they were both in a life-changing car crash, or won the lottery, or just grew apart.  The important thing is to remember that even in an external action, ‘plot-driven’ story, characters are making choices all the time.

Liam Neeson’s character in ‘Taken’ has no control over the fact his daughter was kidnapped (that was the writer’s big picture ‘blueprint’ of the story they wanted to tell).  However, when he says ‘I do have are a very particular set of skills’, that is pure character.  He’s not mouthing these words so we can jump from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in the story, that character is speaking from personality, anger, and experience.  He won’t just go to the police.  He will find and hunt the perpetrators down.  Bryan Mills (the character) had no other choice in that moment — it’s a character-driven action.

Trusting and following your characters, step-by-steps

  1. When you first develop your story, trust your landscape even if it looks like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle.  Leave room for more characters to appear.  And believe that the whole story exists out there, complete, and that in time you will discover it.
  2. Envision scenes with your characters talking to each other.  Watch for clues — why does he change the subject when she asks about his past?  Why does she call herself Mrs. Callaway when we know she’s never been married?  What made him become a doctor when he just said the law was his first love?  You want to observe these things quietly, and investigate them surreptitiously, as to not impose or change the story world — just watch, ask questions and probe deeper.
  3. Pick a great hero (or know you’ve been picked by one).  Honestly, half the battle of plotting is won by an interesting, inquisitive, and active protagonist.  You should keep digging and working with your hero until you can really hear and see them, and then hopefully they will talk and act in ways that will move your story forward.  Even if your character was told to sit in a bare chair in a empty room and wait, you should know (see) what action they would take next.  How long would they wait?  Would they light a smoke?  Pace?  Sleep?  Sneak out of the room and spy on others?
  4. Keep writing forward.  In your first draft, don’t keep polishing.  I allow myself to re-read what I wrote last session, correct a few typos, then move forward.  That’s it.  If you have those few, big events planned out, start writing toward them (i.e. she leaves for college) and just watch what she does.
  5. Don’t skip ahead.  Once you start writing, stop thinking and plotting it out in your head (work on future stories instead).  If you’re excited to see what happens next, discipline yourself to wait till you can sit down and write what happens next.
  6. Let your character Choose Her Own Adventure.  Ever read those charming second person stories like ‘Cave of Time’?  Now it’s time to put your fourth grade skills to work — only now your hero is doing the deciding.  In the example of someone leaving for college, what might happen?  Her mom suggests a going-away party.  Look closely at your character.  Is she — excited about any party?  Annoyed at her mom for mentioning it?  Wants to spend all of her remaining time packing and planning?  Little choices will tell you a lot about your character, and may lead to big choices (even ones you didn’t plan on) later in the story.
  7. Gage your excitement level.  When your plot goes one way (huge blowout going-away party!), think about how you feel.  Are you excited to read/write this part?  If not, skip it and just have your character bring the reader up to date (‘The worst party of my life.  And then HE showed up’).  Now you’re interested, right?  Write that encounter.  Since you’re not plotting out every little scene, it’s important to feel that internal compass — and be willing to throw out a page or two and back up if you find yourself getting bored.  As my grandmother use to say about crochet — ‘Be a cheerful ripper!’
  8. When you and your characters disagree, you yield to them.  Say you plan on your hero meeting the love of her life, a shy CompSci major, in college and getting engaged fast (which brings on troubles with the mom back home).  And so you start writing it that way, only you’re getting bored writing about their first date and then your hero wants, after using the restroom, to sneak out of the restaurant and never look back.  NOO!  You try to write it right, but your character’s whole personality suggests this other action.  She wants to run out.  You kind of want to see what would happen if she did, but it will ruin your whole plan.  Or would it?  If your story is about growing up, confrontation with parents, and becoming the person you’re suppose to be, then shy Derek doesn’t matter — you just thought he mattered.  Tell yourself you’ll just write a few pages to ‘see where this goes’ and you’ll probably find more interesting, and more original, ways to get her to the point of the big blowup/confrontation with her mom.
  9. If you get stuck, wander.  We are not a wandering world anymore.  You’re either hard at work or hard at play.  We have become allergic to dawdling, saunters, and the meandering path.  But if you lose the flow of your story, think on different locations and people, flip forward in time, even change viewpoints.  Search for the heart of your story, and let what’s interesting guide you back to the trail.
  10. Trust the power of the rewrite.  Your second draft (and third and forth…) is an easy place to cut, add, and polish.  I have never had to change much, but I have made stories immensely better by adding a couple of little scenes, wrapping up characters arcs for characters who disappeared after page 50, and getting voice stronger from beginning to end.  Just have fun with the wild ride of a first draft (follow your heart), and know you can make it more perfect in later drafts.
  11. Let it wobble.  This is a strange concept.  But as you move away from a perfect, detailed structure and start following a real, breathing world full of characters that make weird choices, resist the urge to tie up all the loose ends, make the world pristine, or only leave in lines that are related to your through plot.  Like a bowl spinning but not tipping over, let your story have some odds and ends that don’t quite match and meet up.  Obviously, you want your story to be building tension, and be mostly tied together, but I believe you also want space, room to breathe, and little gaps where a reader might stop and ponder — ‘Why didn’t he finish school?  He just left and we never found out why.’  Or ‘It was pretty cool when her dad talked on and on about space and the planets.  It didn’t tie into the story, but it made me think of my own dad.’  Or ‘Why did he say London reminds him of Paris when he hates London and loves Paris?’  In life we don’t have all the answers in front of us — shouldn’t fiction be the same?

“Follow the light of your intuition, and keep away from the darkness of convention.”
                                                                             ― Michael Bassey Johnson

When you plot out your novel, you are using your reason and experience.  But you’re not creating in the same way.  You’re guessing, and you may get scared and conservative.  You’ll do what you’ve seen done in stories before — and that would a great shame and a repetition.  But if you trust yourself, believe that you know the characters and the world well, and listen to your character’s heart and voice, you can find you’ve written a story wilder than you had planned, more twisty than you could conceive of, and more refreshing (and exciting) than you’ve ever dreamed.

And isn’t that what a plot should be?  

from manhattancouture.tumblr.com

from
manhattancouture.tumblr.com

 

Ten Reasons Why Writers Should Network (and one reason why they shouldn’t)

Like many other writers, I spend a lot of time alone.  And I like it.  A lot.

But I also founded the Athens Writers Association.

Why?  What pulls us writers out of our shells, away from our peaceful little nest-like abodes, and out into the public eye, the uneasy conversation, or even onto the (gasp!) center stage?

A lot of reasons, obviously.  It would be very false to attribute just one explanation to us all.  That said — whatever draws us out — what we often find is a network.

That word still reeks of business-ese to me, and makes me envision lots of men in ill-fitting suits pressing business cards into each other’s hands, and yet I’m sure networking is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself as a writer.

Found on professionalartistmag.com

A little background: home schooled off the grid in the 80s and 90s, I had very little contact with other writers ’til I started going to classes and writers conferences in 1998.  Even then, I was very shy, somewhat nervous, and thought I didn’t have anything to say that people would want to hear.  But…  I also had a burning desire to become a great writer.

So in 2002 I joined a novel critique group that met at the local Borders bookstore and made my first writing friends.  In the four years we were together, I eventually became co-moderator.  The most fascinating thing to me though, was watching my writing get better as I moved from being the baby newbie writer of the group to one of the most experienced (it also taught me about the high turnover of groups 😉 ).  I am forever indebted to those writers, because they helped me become better than I had even been before, and I’m not sure if I would have ever gotten to where I am now without their help and opinions.

Found on professionalartistmag.com

After the first critique group ended I tried to start another one called (cough, cough) Novel Journeys but that didn’t take (someone in the group actually hated Tolkien).  Fast forward to 2012.  I had been meeting with other creative types for a few months through Meetup.com, but I felt the need for more.  I knew there had to be lots of writers in the Athens area, but it was hard to meet them, and by that point I had visited a few more critiques groups and decided that wasn’t the place for me (and my writing) right then.

So the Athens Writers Association was born, born of a desire to connect — I just didn’t know how or why yet.  Sixteen people showed up at that first meeting, and let me tell you, it was pretty intimidating to talk in front of them.  But in one night I had almost doubled the number of local writers I’d ever met.  We were on to something.

But this isn’t about me or even about AWA.  This is about you, and why you should (if you feel the distant call) journey outward, at least as far as to touch our hands, make contact, and know you’re not alone in the crazy thing called the writing life.  Here’s why —

Ten Reasons Why Writers Should Network (and one reason why they shouldn’t)

  1.    You are not alone.  One of the best reasons to connect with any group of like-minded or similarly-experienced people is to understand how universal your feelings and problems are.  My sister is my closest confidante and yet in writing, the other AWA members ‘get’ me in a way non-writers, even an artist, cannot.  My issues are their issues.  Just knowing others are out there on the same journey can help immensely.
  2. Your writing will improve.  Even if you’re not in a critique group, exposure to others will sharpen your game, help you ferret out old troupes and worn-out plots, and inspire you in new directions.
  3. You get to do scary things again and again and again.  I know, sounds great right?  But talking to strangers, reading your work in public, teaching classes, editing collections, and more all become much easier with practice.  Believe me — I have had to become much more outgoing.  I can’t promise that it gets easy for us introverts but I can promise you that it’s worth it.  Being outgoing may not become natural, but it becomes a tool in your toolbox, so that when you want to approach your favorite author, write to a potential agent, or give a talk on something you’re passionate about — you can.  And you’ll know how to feel the fear and do it anyway, because you’ve already done it before, many times.
  4. You’ll meet the best people.  Congratulations!  You have picked an interest with some of the kindest, smartest, and funniest people you’ll ever meet (even if they are sticklers for things like ‘Oxford Commas’).  These people are the kind you’d hope to find one of, and instead you get a roving pack of them.  Take the time to find some favorites, and you might even find yourself new friends to do things with like see movies, go to parties, and have picnics (maybe you extroverts already have a ton of these people, but it’s a big find for quiet folk like me).
  5. You’ll find all sorts of new opportunities.   It’s the beating heart of business networking and it turns out to be true: knowing more people means you get to do things you never dreamed of.  I have read poetry at UGA, met Georgia Hall of Fame writers, read a zombie story at Cine theater, met the founder of Rabbit Box, and more all because of putting myself out there.  And the same opportunities are available to you: I will personally tranq dart and drag to the Athens Regional Library meeting rooms anyone who expresses even a mild interest in teaching a writing class (watch out, you could be next).
  6. Beta readers!  Now, a word of warning: no one really has time to read your new manuscript.  They don’t know if it’s any good, and as writers, AWA members are already living full lives AND are trying to find time for their own writing.  But, that said, as you make friends and people learn about your work and style, you may find sweet, awesome people who will help make your novel better.  If so, listen to them, thank them, ply them with chocolate and gifts, and hold no grudges if they don’t finish it/read it/like it.  They are still an invaluable part of your writing education.
  7. You’ll learn that you aren’t as good (or bad) as you think.  In dog showing, they call it ‘kennel vision’.  If all you see is your baby, Lord Crestwoods Roving Rover, day in and day out, you’ll start planning the outfit you’ll wear when you win Best In Show at Westminster.  When I came to my first group, I was the worst writer and it made me want to improve.  That group also had a guy show up (for a couple of meetings) who had written a chapter one that made you want scream with envy — I don’t know what he’s doing now, but I know he made me better.  On the flip side, it’s great to see how far you’ve come: you see the little baby writers (of any age) teetering about and you help them get better and feel proud of all you’ve learned since you were their age.
  8. You won’t take scary people as seriously.  “Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” –Gilbert K. Chesterton.  Editors, agents, traditionally published writers — up close, they look shockingly like you and me.  They are afraid of talking to their idols, they worry about sucking, and they hate rejection too.  And if you never meet important people, you may never realize that you have all the right ingredients to become one of them.
  9. You’ll get (even more) excited about writing.  I have never left a writer, or group of writers, without a renewed sense of joy, inspiration, and a deep desire to get my butt in a chair and start writing.
  10. You will realize you are part of something larger.  Whether in a social or spiritual way, writing is connection.  We may write alone, but we are not alone.  Others have come before us, others will trail after.  Some shall inspire us and others will be inspired.  In our own lives where we see confusion, others will find symmetry.  In our work where we see a wandering exposition, others will find their favorite passage.  And when we see only darkness, others will show us the light and lead us back to the path.  It’s not easy to meet strangers, but strangers are the scared keepers of our best friends, if we have only the courage to go forth and meet them.

Found on coleenpatrick.com

Oh, and the one reason NOT to network?  Because you truly don’t want to and it offers you nothing.  That’s fine.  Because, after all —

8198588b2592f7012e354a97e6326cb6

How To Create and Publish an Ebook

black android smartphone beside black ceramic mug on brown wooden table

Photo: @felipepelaquim

For those of you who couldn’t make it to our ebook class, here’s the handout.  Enjoy!

By Katherine Cerulean

NOTE: Most of the information below is about how to publish an ebook on Amazon.com.  That’s what I first tried and it’s worked so well for me that I haven’t looked further.  But for those opposed to Amazon, lulu.com and nookpress.com/ebooks are other popular ways to bring your ebook into the world.  Gumroad.com is another option — it allows you to sell files directly to your readers.

First of All . . .

Creating a great ebook begins long before you start an Amazon Kindle account, create a book cover, or hit the ‘upload’ button.  Like everything we do, it starts with great writing.

Deciding to publish your own ebook is the first step in one of the most dramatic examples of ‘you get out of something what you put into it’ that you’ll ever experience.  And on one shoulder you’ll see the angel of ‘professional, traditionally-published books’ — inspiring you and disheartening you by turns with their high level of perfection (more specifically formatting and proofreading than necessarily content).  On your other shoulder is the devil of ‘DIY {shrug} good enough books’ — temping you to give up and accept a ‘sort of’ professional book that’s still better than 50% of stuff out there (BTW — I think in any venture you should shoot for [and can hit] the top 90% to 95% percentile of awesome).

The best way to rise above the ebook crowd is to have a great book to start with.  An amazing story, interesting or helpful information, or unforgettable characters.  You want to have the same high standards a traditional book publisher would have, and press yourself for another rewrite if it’s not quite up to par (actually, we’re aiming for birdies and eagles here, if you remember).

Now, I know what you’re thinking — “I know about writing.  I came here to learn about creating an ebook.”  Fair enough, but understand this: sending out an unpolished, error-filled, ‘good enough’ ebook into the world will do no one any favors.  Instead, honor yourself and spend the time, effort, or money (if you decide to hire an editor and/or proofreader) to get it right.  I promise you that the feeling of pride you get will make your effort worthwhile.

So to sum up: Remember to have a perfect copy first — PERFECT.  Every tiny mistake, added line, and misspelled word can make a huge headache later.  Every time I’m like ‘I wish I’d edited more’ — every time.

What are You Publishing — and Why?

If you’ve ever submitted a query letter to an agent or publisher, you know things like word count and genre are integral parts of that communication.  But what about when you are in charge; do those things matter at all?

The short answer is: Somewhat.  The long answer: They should matter to you for the main reason they matter to traditional publishers — audience expectations.

Ebooks allow total freedom in word count.  You can publish a 80,000 word self help book, a 2,000 word short story, or a 1,000,000 word epic fantasy novel — but should you?  You have to charge at least 99 cents on Amazon for your book, so something as short as this blog would probably be a disappointment to most readers.  Conversely, I might also want my 99 cents back after slugging through a novel nearly twice as long as War & Peace.

So don’t worry too much about length, but don’t use your freedom with word count to become unprofessional.

As for that other language of query letters, what about genres?  Here you’ll get to decide, and you should educate yourself about different genres and find the books most similar to your own.  Don’t call your book ‘young adult’ just because it’s a hot category.

The last question you should ask yourself is ‘Why do I want to publish an ebook?’  Some people want to be as successful as J.K. Rowling.  Well, sure.  But in the here and now, wanting to share your story, or your grandmother’s story, is a more attainable goal.  Wanting to make a beautiful, polished ebook and doing something you’ve never done before is a wonderful thing to want, and a very satisfying thing to achieve.

How to Format Your Manuscript

Everything from this section is from Catherine Ryan Howard’s wonderful book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (now in its 3rd edition).  I really can’t recommend this book too strongly to anyone interested in self publishing.  This is just a taste of the details and steps she takes you through — I really wouldn’t do a project without it!  Spending $15 is a very worthwhile investment in your ebook.

First make two copies marking one ebook and one paperback (e.g. ‘othergodsebook.doc’).  Make another called othergodsebook2.doc or something just in case things go horribly wrong.

Keep it simple, something that it can easily convert and look good on many different devices.  No crazy fonts, line breaks, bullet-lists etc.

Some books don’t work as ebooks (photography, cooking, etc).  Novels are a little easier to convert than other types of books.

Turn off ‘Track Changes’.

Things that have to go (if you’re using Microsoft Word)–

  • Headers and Footers (the numbers that tell us what page we’re on and what book we’re reading)
  • Title page
  • Copyright (we’ll change it for the ebook)
  • Tables, columns, and other non-fiction elements

Go ‘nuclear’ by taking away all formatting by copying your file and pasting it into NotePad, TextEdit.

Copy and paste that back into Word.  Eliminate blank lines (two at the end of each chapter is fine).

Copy all and go to Format -> Style then modify it to Times New Roman, 10 Point, left-aligned and single space.

Then go to Format -> Paragraph and set it to left-aligned with first line indent to 0.3″.

Add front matter like this —

OTHER GODS

By Katherine Cerulean

Kindle Edition | Copyright 2015 Katherine Cerrulean

All rights reserved.  No part of this e-book may be reproduced in any form other than that in which it was purchased without the written permission of the author.

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

http://www.KatherineCerulean.com

Then create a new style called ‘Front Matter’ and center your text, and use Paragraph to not have indents.

You’ll eventually have two files, one for Smashwords and one for Kindle, but you can do that at the end.  The ‘Kindle edition’ section in the front matter will be the only difference.

Only insert page breaks after the front matter and after each chapter.  Place one paragraph before and after the page break.  Create the break by going to Insert ->Page Break.

Go back and add in italics and bold.

Then add end matter like this —

THE END

###  — always end your ebook will these three marks

(Other Possible End Matter) —

Author’s Note

Something very important about your book, such as historical clarification.

Acknowledgements

In an ebook these go at the end.  Time to thank all the good folks that got you here.

About the Author (should look something like this)

Katherine Cerulean grew up in the countryside, home-schooled near Athens, GA.  She has been writing seriously for sixteen years, starting with screenwriting and then moving into novels.  Her completed novels are Other Gods (a fantasy) and A Caged Heart Still Beats (a love story).  She is the founder of the Athens Writers Association.  She is also the author of How to Come Alive: A Guidebook to Living the Life of Your Dreams.  Her next novel Fall Street, a coming of age story, is in progress.

Read the first chapter of Fall Street at http://www.katherinecerulean.com/my-novels/fall-street.com

http://www.KatherineCerulean.com

You can also create a ‘live’ table of contents.  I did not bother with this for my self improvement book, but for a longer non-fiction it could be an advantage.

Your Ebook Cover

The best cover I could make . . .

The best cover I could make . . .

. . . and the cover my sister, who is an artist, made.

. . . and the cover my sister, who is an artist, made.

Your cover should be a JPEG image that is at least 1,000 pixels wide on the longest side and ideally a height/width ratio of 1.6 and Amazon recommends 2,500 pixels on the longest side for best quality.

You can make an easy little cover with Word or Publisher but remember to buy  a picture from the stock image websites or use your own — never anyone else’s.  You could also get written permission (say, if you wanted to use an old photo your mother had taken of your grandmother).

BUT — You get what you pay for.  I learned the hard way that you really need a professional’s eye (or at least an art or design student’s).  In Athens it should be easy to find someone who has the skills you’re looking for.  Remember, you have skills too; maybe you could proofread their term paper in exchange for their time and effort.

Uploading To Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing

Creating an account is super easy and free.  You will need to enter your name, address, and social security number (for tax purposes).

Then Add New Title  — (getting exciting here!)

Add your cover photo, description, and book file.  Search my name and ‘amazon descriptions’ if you would like to read my three-part series about writing a good listing.  BAM!  You’re done and your ebook listing should appear on Amazon in a few days.

Other Info

Smashwords.com is a free site where you can also sell your ebook and get in on Barnes & Noble’s website, Kobo website etc.  It’s harder to get a ‘passing grade’ than with Amazon, but if you’re serious you should eventually do it.  It’s also can be hard to get your book off those sites if you decide you want to take it down to do an exclusive Amazon promotion.

Quick Notes About Creating a Paperback:

Createspace.com is the perfect venue to use if you want to publish a paperback and an ebook.  It’s a part of Amazon and for free you can create both a paperback and an ebook (you’ll still be uploading two different files so it’s still twice the work).

The paperback is a separate beast, but one only somewhat more gnarly (and snarly) than its ebook cousin.  Paperbacks add in page numbers, fancier chapter headings, white pages to denote new sections, and more appealing lists.  All of these can make a self published book look very professional.  And all can make you want fall on the floor weeping.  A book like Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard, can teach you how to format your paperback and in the end, a few day’s work is well worth it when you see how beautiful your book can be.

In the End

The most important takeaway is that you CAN publish an ebook.  It’s not magic.  It doesn’t take a million dollars.  What it takes a little time, a little practice, and a whole lot of patience (or coffee).  But you’ll come away with a powerful new skill, a beautiful book, and a wonderful way to share your story with the world.  Let me know if I can help.

For questions — contact me at katherinecerulean@gmail.com.  Or visit —      Katherinecerulean.com

Come Learn to Make an Ebook on 3/18 at the Athens Regional Library!

from blog.udemy.com

Have you ever wanted to see your book listed on Amazon.com?  Do you dream of sharing your story with people around the world?  Are you unsure about all the packages, services, and editors that can cost thousands of dollars to prepare your manuscript and upload it for you?  Have you ever wondered if you could do it yourself?

Come learn the basics from AWA founder Katherine Cerulean, get the answers you need, and prepare to be ‘published author’!

Full details —

How To Make An Ebook

  • Wednesday, March 18, 2015

    5:00 PM

  • Athens-Clarke County Library

    2025 Baxter Street, Athens, GA (edit map)

  • An ebook is an easy and low cost way to share your writing with the world.  You can sell it on Amazon, Barns & Noble, and other places.

    Whether you want to share Grandma’s childhood memories with your family or become a bestselling author, putting out an ebook out is a wonderful way to achive your dream.

    Come learn from Athens Writers Association founder Katherine Cerulean how to pick the right length for your ebook, whether your should hire an editor or full package service, creating a cover, and how to publish new editions.

    Bonus: learn to turn your ebook into a Createspace paperback.

    Come with questions and leave with a new skill set!

    Free, with handouts.

    We’ll be in multi purpose room C (I believe), which is down at the end of the first hallway on the left.

    NOTE: Food and drinks are prohibited in this multi purpose room; the exception is water, which is allowed.

What Makes Someone a ‘Writer’?

If you’re here, you have an interest in writing, or know someone who does.  But what, at the heart of the matter, makes someone cross over from interested to intense?  From wanna-be to gotta-be?  From hopeful to hellbent?

What makes someone claim the title, pick up the mantle, and be able to say — when asked at a party what they do — “I’m a writer.”?

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This is a very personal question, because you have to be a writer often long before you’re a ‘paid writer’, ‘professional writer’, or a ‘famous writer’.  You can’t just declare yourself a doctor (not without massive lawsuits ensuing) but one day, if you haven’t already, you’ll have to declare yourself a ‘writer’.

For me, it was ‘novelist’.  I could call my teenage self a writer because of the mere fact that I wrote.  But ‘novelist’ was the pillar, and I waited until I’d finished all drafts of my first novel to present myself that way to the world.  Now, I’ve been comfortable with it for so long that I forget the newbie’s fear — ‘Am I a real writer?’

7c918851e2cb60e23ea8075de8f5ed8dYes, you are.  Yes you ARE.

Writers are often humble and unsure.  We’ve read Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald — it takes a lot of audacity to join the party and think we’ll have something to contribute to the conversation.  But the greats probably thought that too.  Our early efforts can be frustrating, because we know good, but we can’t always recreate it.

— Ira Glass

But you know, at a soul level, that you’re a writer.  You have a story to tell, an idea to share, a wrong to right through letters and lines.  You’ve probably been thinking about the book you’re writing (or want to write) for a long time.  If you love good literature and hard work, believe me, you can create something sensational.  And you can change not only your life but someone else’s as well.

So you’ve come to the right place — the land of dreamers, the island of misfit toys.  Some of us have been ‘writers’ for a very long time, but most of us have only recently been willing to show that side to the light.  We’ll help you and encourage you.  There’s no magic to becoming one of us, but there’s a lot of magic after you do.

So say right now — ‘I am a writer!’  Then smile; you’re about to change the world.

Found on feedly.com

 — Katherine Cerulean, Founder

2015 — What are Your Writing Dreams?

Found on eventbrite.com

2015.  A bright, shiny new year.  But what does that mean for your writing?  Why, anything you want it to!

Maybe this is the year you write that novel, non-fiction book, or memoir.  Perhaps you will do a live reading of your poems in front of a crowd.  How about self publishing your first book?  Or your 21st?

Whatever your dreams and plans, the Athens Writers Association is here for you.  In the next weeks, we’ll be adding even more events to our Upcoming Events page.  They’ll be Meet & Greets so you can talk to more experienced authors and get answers, classes to help you improve your skills, and talks from experienced writers to encourage and challenge you.

Ultimately, you will decide where you’ll go this year and what kind of writer you’ll be at the end of it.

Found on universal-blueprint.tumblr.com

With that in mind, consider joining us for —

Intro to Goal Setting for 2015

  • Sunday, January 18, 2015

    5:00 PM

    Dunkin’ Donuts

    1045 Gaines School Rd Ste A, Athens, GA

  • What does the new year hold for you? Do you dream of writing a novel? Getting fit? Starting a business? Come with a dream and a blank piece of paper (or tablet, laptop etc) and join Athens Writers Association founder Katherine Cerulean for a laid-back discussion about moving your fantasies into accomplishments. Make 2015 the year you stopped saying ‘I wish…’ and start saying ‘I did!’ Free, with handouts.

     

    And finally, in 2015, on all levels —

    Found on examiner.com

Time to rock it out!