M. Archived Tips

Read these 13 M. Archived Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Creative Writing tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Resources







Below are several archived tips from the old “Resources” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Research companies in your area

Create a list of companies in your area that would be likely to hire writers. Brainstorm!! Send job query letters to magazines, newspapers, online firms, university communications & development departments, etc.

General Online Resources

This site contains an exhaustive list of places you can go online to get advice, job leads, and support for your writing career.

http://minerva.stkate.edu/offices/administrative/careerdev.nsf/pages/links4writing#gen

Major style resources for today´s writer

Writers trying to publish today should be familiar with the following style guides. Doubtless you know MLA from your college term paper days, but Chicago style is an equally important thing to know--many "non-literary" markets will prefer it.

Modern Language Association (style guide)

http://www.mla.org/

Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq/

American Spoken English

http://www.spokenamericanenglish.com/

Online Workshops

Need a class but have no time? Consider an online class. Do some digging on the internet. Choose a course that is run by people with M.A. or M.F.A writing degrees or at least a solid list of publications.

Your college Career Services office

You may have forgotten all about those perky people in Career Services because you graduated ages ago. But did you know that as an alum you are still entitled to their help? Give them a call. Successful graduates often list open positions exclusively with their alma mater’s Career office. They looooooove filling positions in their companies with people from their old school--even years down the road.

Searching for a job online

Set up search agents on sites like JournalismJobs.com & MediaBistro.com. The writing resource site Sunoasis.com keeps lists and features detailed articles about searching online. Be proactive with the listings you find--thousands of other people are also pulling them up on their computers, so you’ll want to act quickly.

Online writing communities

For Writers.com

http://www.forwriters.com/

The Online Writery

http://www.missouri.edu/~writery/fun.html

Writing.com Online Community

(I have an account with them, it’s a great community.)

http://www.writing.com/?rfrc=stories.com&rfrt=www

Zuzu’s Petals Literary Resources

http://www.zuzu.com/index.htm

Writer Groups

Research writing groups in your area by internet search. I found several in my city by searching under "state/city & writer group".

Also check out this list, organized by genre/audience/subject matter.

http://www.writerswrite.com/groups.htm

Adult Education & Distance Learning

This site on Yahoo will help you find a writing course in your area that you can attend after work or in your spare time. Check your local yellow pages for Adult Education institutes in your area.

http://dir.yahoo.com/Education/Distance_Learning/Adult_and_Continuing_Education/

Network

It gets said a lot, but it’s true. The best jobs are had because you take the time to make a contact in your desired industry. Call HR reps at companies you think might have room for writers and get their input on your chances. Chances are, they’ll be willing to have you come in for a chat. HR reps are skilled at sizing people up to see if they would fit a job or a company--so have your portfolio ready and be able to say in detail what you’re looking for in a position and why you’re interested in that company.

Seminars

Check the Events page on websites of local colleges and universities for seminars, weekend workshops, etc., that may be free or very economical.

Promoting Your Site

Have your site blasted to loads of search engines to ensure plenty of hits. Click the button below for a quick, easy submission.

Add Me!

Publications that will help you find homes for your work

1. THE WRITER’S MARKET (published each year)

A book that lists markets for journals, magazines, etc. This is available in the bookstore, but since it is an annual publication, I recommend consulting one in a library.

2. POETS & WRITERS MAGAZINE--www.pw.org/index.html

A good general resource. Lists contests, deadlines, etc., as well as articles useful to writers who want to publish.

3. WEBSITES of individual journals--will have a page for submissions guidelines.

4. YOUR HUMBLE GURU

I keep lists of journals & their stats on hand & would be happy to suggest one for you. Or if you would like an exhaustive list, give a yell for that too.

University Writing Programs

More and more schools are offering instruction and degrees in creative writing. These are good if you want to immerse yourself in an intensive writers community, and thus will require considerable investments of time and finances.

Research programs on this list to find one that’s right for you.

http://www.gradschools.com/listings/menus/creative_write_menu.html

Find Resources in CraigsList

From finding a local writer's group where you can get your work read and critiqued, to finding writing jobs, CraigList is a great resource to help you with all your creative writing endeavors. Just be careful of scams- don't send money over the internet and meet writing groups in public places!

http://www.craigslist.org

General Links

The Writers Market

http://www.writersmarket.com

Sunoasis

www.sunoasis.com

Careers in Writing

http://minerva.stkate.edu/offices/administrative/careerdev.nsf/pages/links4writing#gen

PubList

www.publist.com

Bookwire

http://www.bookwire.com/bookwire/

BookTalk

http://www.booktalk.com/

Writers Digest

http://www.writersdigest.com/101sites/2002_index.asp

Literary Marketplace

http://www.literarymarketplace.com/lmp/us/index_us.asp

Basic Web Design for Writers

If you want a writing career these days, it doesn´t hurt to be literate in either HTML or Java. Fortunately, neither is difficult to learn, and you can easily pick them up from the slew of online tutorials available. EchoEcho.com has tons of web design resources to get you started. http://www.echoecho.com/

Create a Free Writing Website

In order to get your writing out there, you can build a free website at several different websites, including http://www.freewebs.com and http://www.wordpress.com. Additionally, there are many free resources out there that can help you create the website that you want. http://www.bravenet.com is one of my favorites.

   

Communities & the Writing Life










Below are several archived tips from the “Communities & the Writing Life” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most were created by past Life Tips gurus.


Choosing a Conference

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Choosing a conference is kind of like deciding where to go to college. Different ones are good for different reasons. There are big ones, like Breadloaf and Sewanee—if you go to these you'll definitely mix with some well-known writers, but you might find yourself swept up in some serious rump-smooching sessions. You can get a lot out of these big ones—like an agent, or a critique from a writer you respect. But if you shop around, you can find smaller, less pricey weekends with good writers running the workshops—without much hype. These conventions can be equally worthwhile, since you're there to become a better writer and make meaningful contacts—not to rub elbows.

Links to Literary Journals

This list from Poets and Writers is the most complete I’ve seen online. Check it out & link directly to home pages of great journals.

http://www.pw.org/links_pages/Literary_Magazines/

Getting clips

The basis of a freelancer’s career is her portfolio. Always concentrate on adding clips to it. Try to approach your portfolio with some kind of focus--in other words, if your goal is to write online, produce pieces that illustrate your skill at that. And let them show your interests as well. If you’re looking for advertising/marketing type work, focus your energy there. This isn’t to say that a good portfolio shouldn’t include both book reviews and product ads. A little diversity shows your range as a writer. But potential clients like to see where your commitments and interests lie.

If at first you don´t succeed...

Literary publishing is a tough world for beginners. Getting your piece in with a respectable journal can be just plain frustrating. There may be nothing wrong with your piece, but it simply isn’t to the magazine’s taste. Or whatever. That’s why you have to keep trying. Dont’ stop submitting after the first, tenth, or hundredth rejection slip. Every writer who gets anywhere goes through this trial by fire. Finally getting a publication feels all the better for the struggle. DON’T GIVE UP.

Give as good as you get

Whatever the nature of your chosen writing community, always remember to contribute as much as, if not more than, you recieve. If you attend writers group meetings, be generous with your critiques and your time. If friends are reading your manuscripts, insist that they send you something of theirs. If you’ve volunteered to distribute publicity materials for a reading, make sure you follow through. The world of writing is a nourishing community to those who give of themselves.

Choosing a Writing Program

Tip edited by James Gapinski

The benefits of studying writing at the graduate level are many. You just can't beat a supportive workshop led by a successful writer dedicated to teaching. Small writer's groups tend to bud off classes, and before you know it you're immersed in a fresh, young writerly community, taking advantage of readings and the oh-so-valuable mentor relationships. Some of these connections will last throughout your career. You must consider matters like expense, whether you can afford to be latched to a high-maintenance writing department for three years, and whether you in fact need three years of instruction.

If graduate study is for you, take into account what financial assistance a given program is likely to offer you. Who are the writers-in-residence? What are the school's physical surroundings, and would you enjoy living there?

Finding a writing gig

Landing a cushy writing job is every scribbler's dream. But you're unlikely to get a good one without clips and publications, and it's extra tough without prior experience. Kind of like getting your first credit card. And no, you won't get one in the mail! Luckily, there's freelancing. A hardworking freelancer with a reputation for getting things done will earn serious stripes—and in time, an interview for that elusive copywriting job.

Online resources for freelancers

The Business of Writing: Minding the Details
www.writersdigest.com/newsletter/business2.html
(Financial and legal advice about freelancing)

Tips For a Better Work-for-Hire Contract
www.nwu.org/bite/tipswfh.htm

www.freeagent.com
www.workingsolo.com
www.soho.org

Freelancer´s Portfolio

While you're waiting for those high-paying assignments to roll in, throw yourself at potential clients. Keep a portfolio of your best and most recent work handy, along with an up-to-date resume or CV. Send these to ad firms, non profits, publishing companies, etc. These organizations frequently contract out and pay well for it. Be specific when telling them what you can do for them. Make sure your portfolio contains examples of the kind of writing you are offering to do. If you have to, create some “dummy” pieces that you've written to prove you know the medium (but be careful not to pass these off as published pieces). Clients love to see that kind of initiative.

Conference Links

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Click the following link for a detailed list of current conferences and residencies (from Poets & Writers). http://www.pw.org/links_pages/Conferences_and_Residencies/

Freelance Writer Associations

It’s good to associate.

The Author’s Guild
www.authorsguild.org

(Book authors primarily, but will extend membership to writers of feature articles. They have an insurance policy.)

National Writers Union
www.nwu.org

(Open to everybody freelancing in the US. Good contract advice on the site.)

Mentors

Your MFA experience will be enriched if you pursue a relationship with an older, more experienced writer. This person should be someone who you get along with well and who has demonstrated an interest in your work. A mentor can provide encouragement, advice, and will often agree to read work outside of the workshop setting. Grab onto these opportunities when they come along! You’ll need the advice of a seasoned writer when it comes to publishing, getting an agent, etc.

Marketing Yourself

Freelance writers can't afford to be modest or shy about their services. Promote yourself—work isn't going to fall in your lap. Build a website advertising your services; take out an ad in the yellow pages; join a writer's community like Sunoasis Jobs and take advantage of their cheap classified ad posting. Brainstorm! With the help of the web, you can find countless places to advertise yourself. A good place to snag plummy assignments is www.elance.com. You have to pay to register, but the assignments to be gained will most likely be worth it.

Can I work while working on my MFA?

Tip edited by James Gapinski

While pursuing an MFA degree in writing, make sure you have ordered your life so that you can give enough time to writing and preparing for your workshops.

You need a guaranteed time each day to write. You also need to be fresh when reading the work of classmates so you can contribute. Generally, job-stressed people make poor writers & readers.

Still, most of us can't afford grad school without a job; do your best to find a balance, even if that means cutting back on the luxuries so you don't have to spend as much time working to support your lifestyle.

Finding the writerly element in that not-so-writerly position

If the happy existence of the 9-5 writer isn't to be yours just yet, don't despair. Keep in mind that many, many jobs require polished writing skills at their cores. Don't rule these out! Marketing and Communications departments often churn out reams of copy cleverly disguised as bulletins, product descriptions, etc—as do development offices in universities (grants, press releases…) Do some digging!

Publishing for New Writers

Journals Favoring New Writers

Definitely submit to journals advertising new-writer friendliness. They can get your foot in the door for future publications, and many of them are fine journals themselves. Check out:

Quarterly West
New Letters
Glimmer Train

Writing Contests

A good place to kick off your publishing career is through contests, many of which exclusively accept work from unpublished writers, or writers who haven’t yet published a full-length book. The best contests offer cash prizes and first publication rights to multiple writers, so even if you have to pay a reading fee, it’s often a good bet!

Current info on conferences

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Visit Shaw Guides for current info on conferences worldwide. Search by state to find the one most accessible (or enjoyable).

Independent Bookstores

If you're lucky enough to have access to a good Independent bookstore, take advantage of it. The literary elite of a town or city will center around these shops, giving readings and lectures that you won't find at the chains (yuck!). You might even rub elbows with some of them at the Bargain Books table. Patronize these establishments with your business, take advantage of the programs they offer, and your own personal writerly experience will be enriched.

For a list of Independents in your area, try www.booksense.com.

Writers Groups

Writer's groups can stoke your creative fire like nothing else—they keep you motivated, and more importantly, they provide objective pairs of eyes and ears. You’ll meet weekly or monthly, sharing work with each other and offering critiques. Writers groups can be brutally honest, and wonderfully supportive. The best ones will stay together for years.

Workshops

The basic format of a writing program is workshop. You’ll have 6-12 people working on similar projects as you, led by an older, more experienced writer. You submit 2-3 stories each semester, and each week will read and critique the work of your classmates. You MUST give proper time and energy to reading and critiquing your classmates’ work. They’re doing the same for you.

Each workshop meeting, a discussion will center around individual pieces of submitted work. You will be expected to participate in this discussion, offering your ideas on how to improve the piece. It is a good idea to type up a 1-2 page summary of your thoughts on the piece, so that you can refer to it during the discussion. Summaries are also helpful to the writer when they revise their work.

When your own piece gets workshopped, you will listen, but participate only minimally. The workshop will discuss your story like a piece of literature, analyzing plot, character, imagery, etc. Then they’ll turn to critique--what you could do to improve the piece. Getting workshopped can be stressful at times, but remember: your fellow writers are trying to help. Try not to take comments too personally.

Using Childhood Memories to 'Write' Through a Creative Rough Patch

I never thought I would want to revisit my childhood again. There was a great deal of emotional pain and disappointment lurking and I did not feel it would have a positive effect on my writing. Boy was I wrong! Years ago I had been working on a chapter and I was in the midst of a scene that refused to work for me. I wanted to write it one way but it would not budge. I objectively analyzed why this was. Who was keeping me from my creativity! I was. My need to approach it 'my way' stemmed from my natural instincts being repressed as a child. I remember that happening very clearly. It was painful. But in remembering those painful incidents, other memories started to push through. Things I had not 'remembered' in a very long time. These memories were fighting for their right to be recognized, giving me the courage to admit that 'it wasn't all bad'. I wrote them down quickly, capturing what I could; the emotion, weather, and action. And then I formed a poem around it, and I do not write poems often, but this excersize helped me to cherish that memory in a 'creative context'. The disappointing memory diminished and when I gave over to the positive, it was like a dam had opened inside my soul. I went back to the chapter with a completely different approach because I 'allowed' myself to. And it has given me the continued strength to fight against that childhood oppression as it has no business influencing what is deep in my heart. I read that poem very often!

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, make a brief journey to your childhood, stretch out in the long grass again, build your 'fort' in the backyard again and remember how sacred your creativity is!

Discipline and Distraction

I have heard many wanna-be writers exclaim 'there's just too many distractions!' And they give up before they ever begin. Either there is a fly buzzing around the room, or the dishwasher needs emptying, the partner needs attention, the dusting needs to be done... We throw obstacles in the way in order to give us an excuse not to work on our dreams- as if they are not as worthy as the dusting or the dishes. Discipline your distractions as you would discipline a child. Communicate to your partner or children that you are going to be unavailable for 30minutes. Get a bucket with your cleaning aids and set it outside your door, load the dishwasher but do not run it until you have spent 30 minutes brainstorming a story idea. You do not have to 'write' it all, just give yourself the chance to work it out in your head for that time period.

Set the timer! When 30 minutes is up, do your dusting and your dishwasher and remember to thank your kids/partner for allowing you to have the private time. Once you start setting this example, it will soon become the norm and your distractions will be tamed.

Rekindling Those Writing Fingers

Are you getting your ideas stuck between the keys? Or the cursor is blinking but your fingers aren't moving? First of all, do not panic. Your muse has not left you. The best way I have found to rekindle my inspiration has been to step away from the 'mental pressure' and go read something else entirely, even if it is only a chapter. Or do a search on something that really peeks your imagination like the latest discoveries in archaeology, an online trip to Yellowstone, or the ancient mysteries of the pyramids! It does not matter, as long as you force yourself to take a mental break and daydream about something other than writing. While on a mental break myself, I found a website on Greek Mythology and much to my surprise, I was reading ferociously about Dionysus and found inspiration for a play! I was not looking for it, having taken myself out of the writing 'mode', but it certainly found me. This rush of inspiration then helped me to finish what I was working on previously.

I approach writer's block using a familiar 'motto': If you love your inspiration then let it go! Allow it room to breathe, let it soar through the dimensions of time and space and welcome its return with a loving embrace!

P´s & Q´s of Submitting Work

You may be lucky enough to find a journal that offers online or email submission options. For most journals, however, you´ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. *Do include a copy of the story/poem/essay, as well as a SASE that the magazine can use for your acceptance/rejection slip. *Do let the magazine know if you´ve published elsewhere--this sometimes ups your chances. *DON´T tell them if you´ve sent the piece to other journals ("simultaneous submission"). Many forbid it and will send your submission straight to the recycle bin. *Don´t call the magazine to find out the status of your submission.

Finding the right home for your work

If you're looking to place your fiction, poetry, or essay, start by making a list of literary magazines and journals with tastes similar to yours. If you write 19th-Century-style love poetry, you definitely DON’T want to send your work to a journal that favors horror and fantasy. Doing your homework, finding out who is looking for what, can save you tons of time and money. This will take some digging, and some reading. Take advantage of the web—search engines can take you right to lists of literary journals with functioning websites. These websites will often have detailed descriptions of what the journal publishes, when they accept manuscripts, and where to send them. You MUST adhere to the guidelines the editors give you. Otherwise, your work will be returned or just ignored.

Make writing contacts

Making contact with fellow writers is essential to your growth and development. Non-writer friends can often give valuable and sincere responses to your work, but "colleague" feedback is vital. Sign up for workshops at book festivals. Join or start a writer’s group. Search writing message boards online and initiate correspondence with posters you might click with. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that you can never have too many writer friends and contacts. Even in a small town like I grew up in, literary communities tend to satellite larger ones in cities. Word of mouth and chains of contacts might put you in front of someone who can give your career a real push.

   

Word Magick







Below are several archived tips from the former “Word Magick” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.



Crystallize your adjectives

Modifiers should only be used when the noun they describe can't stand alone. The object of good writing is to get sentences distilled to their simplest, most resonant forms. When you must use an adjective or an adverb, make it a sharp one that makes the noun stronger. Carefully edit your writing for modifiers that don't add anything.

Connect with words, create better fiction

Words are the electrons and protons of fiction. Therefore, it is important to connect with them, explore them, tap into their subtler meanings. The next time you edit a story, focus closely on each and every individual word. Are they as specific as you can get them? Do they roll around on the tongue, or evoke sensory responses? Do they contribute to the punch and flow of your writing? If the answer to any of these is no, begin making lists of "fatter" words that could replace the weaker ones.

Thought, energy, and writing

Words are thoughts in concrete form. And what are thoughts but energy rising in your mind to produce an idea and an accompanying emotion? Think about this when you choose words. You aren't just saying something. You're giving the energy of your unique thoughts a form and a shape that only you can give it. This is why spells and religious chants/songs have such meaning for their creators as well as their receivers, and why they are powerful. Writing is a sacred act, and therefore each word you put on paper must be the best, most descriptive, most concrete you can choose. If you're not careful, you might end up saying something you didn't mean or want to say!

Keep Track of Interesting Words

As a writer, you should develop a curiosity about the origins, meanings, and various connotations of a given word. Try devoting a page or two in the back of your journal to interesting words you run across in your reading. Writing them down will make it more likely that you incorporate them into your writing.

Succinct, simple words

Words should act as a switch, clicking on an image or idea. They should be specific and succinct. Phrases such as “he was her everything” are simply too vague, allowing the reader to insert his own interpretations of what you mean to say.

Vocabulary Enrichment Resources

Below is a list of books that will help you improve your writerly vocabulary.

The Highly Selective Dictionary of Golden Adjectives for the Extraordinarily Literate, by Eugene Ehrlich.




   

Poetry







Below are several archived tips from the “Poetry” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Simple words say the most

The rule of thumb for writing clean, precise verse is this: the simplest word that still conveys your meaning is best. Anything fluffier is just getting in the way.

Don´t write like you´ve got all the answers

A good poem will avoid being a vehicle for the author’s foregone conclusions about life. Writing is about the discovery process, not about beating readers over the head with your own divine wisdom. Likewise, avoid hifalutin, bombastic-sounding talk that is more words than meaning.

To rhyme or not to rhyme?

Rhyming is a personal choice best made in light of the piece’s needs. Some people simply detest poetry that rhymes, while others don’t recognize free verse. Most of us probably reside somewhere in the middle, respecting verse that is simply good. For myself, a poem is good if its images are evocative, its language strong, and its meaning clear. Whether or not it rhymes is rather a minor consideration.

If you choose to rhyme, keep it light and use it only where you don’t have to force words into rhyme. If you have to sacrifice clean lines of verse to make it rhyme, better to stick with free verse.

Tight, clean verse

Since a poem is a *highly compressed* form of writing, ALL words must be relevant, well-chosen, and evocative. Working words, in other words. Edit your verse for words which, standing alone, say or add nothing. Scan for cliche’s and trite-sounding language. Verbs should be active, adjectives descriptive, and adverbs nearly always absent.

The rule of thumb for editing your verse is this: the simplest word that still conveys your meaning is best. Anything fluffier is just getting in the way.

Poetry resources online

The Poetry Page (Cornell Univ.)

http://www.library.cornell.edu/okuref/lit/poetry.html

Journal Writing as an Aid

Journal-writing can be a help to isolating your voice. Take note of the issues you find yourself gravitating toward. The ways in which you close off trains of thought. What kind of sensory information you include in your descriptions. Work at exaggerating these things. Pretend that you are a character speaking in the first person about his or her experiences. You will find the pages of your journal filling up. And you might get a new poem out of it.

Isolate and Target Problem Areas

Periodically take stock of areas in your writing that are giving you trouble. Images? Building enough tension in the piece? Language fresh enough? Do exercises that target these areas and help you improve. This "spot training" will do wonders for your writing.

Build on Concrete Detail

Good writing, whatever the form or genre, depends on its use of concrete details and images. A poem will only resonate with the reader if it exists in the realm of the five senses. Bring your poem down from the abstract. When speaking of love, offer details and images from the senses that indicate why your take on the subject is unique.

Emulate, but don´t Imitate

It’s fine to be influenced by the style of writers you admire. But be careful that you are not simply imitating what they do. You must write in your own voice, with your own diction, and about the things that matter to you.

Finding your style

Don’t worry about making your mark, or finding your individual "flair" just yet. Certainly experiment with types of writing, but in the beginning, just focus on the emotion and language involved in producing solid verse. Your individual flair--already in you, I promise--will develop when you have mastered certain basics.

Glossary of Poetic Terms

This glossary is a good refresher and a great resource if you’re just starting out and want to know which techniques and devices are available to you.

http://www.poeticbyway.com/glossary.html

Communities & Organizations

Academy of American Poets

http://www.poets.org/

Keep a Goals Log

It helps to put goals in writing. Before you go to bed at night, jot down what you hope to accomplish in the next day´s work session. Note whether or not you are meeting these goals. This is helpful, especially if you are working on multiple projects.

Writing to rewrite

When you´re working on a first draft of something, just WRITE. Get the emotions, the character motivations, etc., on paper. Save time-consuming edits for later. We write to rewrite!

A Notebook of the Senses

Carry a small notebook around with you, in which you can write things you observe in the world around you. A kicky line of dialogue on the subway, an unusual animal, a smell in a coffee shop, a dispute between two lovers. The notebook can be your database for sensory material. You can thumb through it when you’re blocked and jump-start your creative juices.

A Writer´s Routine

If you’re going to fully tap your creativity, you need to write within a predictable routine each session. Go with what works and feels natural for YOU. Your friend might work well at 6am, but that’s not true of everybody.

*Try to write at the same time every day

*Minimize distractions--take the phone off the hook, don’t work in site of the fridge or TV.

*Take meal and stretch breaks at pre-set times, if possible.

Language

How is your language? Is it fresh and snappy? Do you make good use of sensory material? Are there any sentences which contain vague, unclear, or unhelpful wording? Are there any inappropriately abstract phrases? Are there any word packages which convey unearned emotion or lack freshness? (Ex., "Something broke inside me," "one thing led to another," "once upon a time," etc.)

Be an observer

Good poetry resides in its author´s observations. Always remember when trying to get an idea across that you are the reader´s eyes and ears on the subject you´re writing about.

Characterization in poetry

Poetry doesn’t always mean you just vent your own pain and suffering on the page. Think also in terms of characterization. Like in fiction, you can write from any point of view you want, and about situations you haven’t experienced. That’s the beauty of writing, you can go where life itself doesn’t even take you.

   

The Idea's the Thing







Below are several archived tips from the former “The Idea’s the Thing” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Stories from life experience

Tip edited by James Gapinski

The Tip:

Fiction doesn´t have to mean you make everything up. You can pull stories from your own life

experience or borrow them from other people. Don´t be afraid to write your own life story.

A Note from the Guru:

The former Life Tips Guru that posted this tip suggested "Just be sure you have had sufficient time to gain perspective on your own trials and tribulations. Only in hindsight do we see the whole picture." While this is partially true, I'd also suggest that you can gain perspective through the writing process itself. Creative writing can be a mechanism for working through complex emotions and issues in your life, fleshing out your true thoughts on paper.

Beauty and the Beast: The magic of character pairs

Sometimes you can create fictional magic just by placing two opposing characters in the same room. Consider opposites or "incompatibles" from real life that might make sparks on the page:

*Spunky waitress and self-absorbed tycoon
*Priest and drug addict
*Hippie chick and JCrew guy
*Southern belle and biker dude

Try making your own pairs--it doesn’t have to be about romance. It’s about personalities that breed conflict and thus readability.

People watching

Tip edited by James Gapinski

If you´re looking for a fresh story element, try eavesdropping in the park or while riding the subway. Carry a notebook around with you. Jot down the wacky things people say and do. Describe an unusual looking person you see on the street, and try to imagine what his life might be like. Our best story ideas sometimes come from strangers we never get to meet.

Situations

The seeds for stories are often in situation. On a piece of paper, make a list of common situations in which conflict might arise. Let your imagination take over, and experiment with varying degrees of magnitude. My suggestions are:

*Getting a root canal
*An anniversary dinner
*A cross-country flight
*Getting called into Human Resources

Now make your own list. Be creative!

Small moments of time

Stories often come out of small moments, in which there is only time enough to perform a brief task or action. Think of things that happen in your life that, while taking only a moment our of your day, can nonetheless become important.

My examples:

*Reading a letter addressed to someone else
*Kissing someone
*Speeding through a red light
*Stealing a wallet

Any one of these could combine with character elements to create a readable story. Now make your own list. Be creative!

Character´s struggle with himself

Faulkner said that the only thing worth writing about was the struggle characters had with themselves. Generate story ideas along this line.




   

Writing Exercises







Below are several archived tips from the former “Writing Exercises” category. Though the following tips have all been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Writing Prompt: The Telephone Call

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a brief story which begins "in medias res" with a telephone call. Have one of the callers inform the other of some event that has taken place. Begin writing

after the call has begun and end it before the characters hang up. In other words, just focus on the dialogue and building tension within the scene. No more than 500 words.

A Word on Creativity Exercises

Tip edited by James Gapinski

These exercises are designed to boost your creativity and show you that the possibilities for story ideas are endless. For exercise purposes, try to keep them to 500 words or less. You may choose to develop them into full stories later, but for now just focus on the task described.

Non-Human Narrators

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story from the point of view of a non-human. This can mean an alien, an animal, or a chest of drawers. The unconventional source of narration frees your creativity and allows you to have some fun with the story. It gives you an excuse to play with dialogue or try your hand at being funny.

What are you most ashamed of?

Tip edited by James Gapinski

The superlatives in our lives--the most frightening, most hilarious, etc.--are the seeds for our stories. Try writing a story about something from your past that you are ashamed of. Don´t write about something that happened within the last year--it must be something you have gained perspective on.

Beauty and the Beast: The Magic of Character Pairs

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Sometimes you can create fictional magic just by placing two opposing characters in the same room. Consider opposites or "incompatibles" from real life that might make sparks on the page.

Personalities that breed conflict create increased readability.

Characterization

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Take a few moments and answer the following questions about the protagonist in your story. This will help you generate ideas about where the story will go and how it will develop during revision. Keep in mind that there may and can be multiple answers for each.

* What does my character want?

* What does he or she fear?

* How does he or she deal with his emotions?

* What are his or her social and intimate relationships like?

* What are his or her past experiences, and how does he or she regard them?

* What does he or her view (or not view) as personal responsibilities?

* What elements of the spiritual does he or she exhibit, and how does he or she deal with them?

* What does he or she do for a living?

* What does he or she do for leisure?

* What failures does he or she secretly feel accountable for?

* What biases or prejudices motivate his or her behavior?

* Are there any "catch phrases" or verbal quips that are unique to him or her?

* Does he or she dream at night? If so, of what?

* Where does he or she go in daydreams?

* What strikes him or her as humorous/non-humorous?

* What does he or she take seriously or fail to take seriously?

Other Resources:

The University of Iowa Writing Center: "Writing Exercises for Creative Fiction Writers - Characertization."

Point of View

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story that employs more than one point of view. The exercise focuses your attention on point of narration, so that you are conscious of things like physical observations, language, and personal biases unique to each individual character.

Other Resources:

Writer's Digest: "Fiction: Point of View," by Steve Almond.

Dialogue

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story in which one character tries to "sell an idea" to another. Focus on the verbal exchange as one character attempts to persuade the other, and on heightening the tension throughout the scene. Begin in medias res, don´t worry about getting us in to the scene.

Other Resources:

Poe War Writer's Resource Center: "12 Exercises for Improving Dialogue," by J. C. Hewitt.

Writer's Write: "Screenwriting Writing Exercises - Dialogue," by Stephen J. Cannell.

Barnes & Noble: Write Great Fiction: Dialogue, by Gloria Kempton; 2004 (book).

The Liar

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story in which one character is clearly lying. This can be either the narrator or another character. You´ll want to focus on peeling away the layers of truth and untruth--the non-liar(s) will inwardly and outwardly wrestle this out.

Writing Prompt: The Dinner Party

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story centered entirely around a dinner party. One of the characters should be mysterious in some way, inspiring the other guests to ponder and discuss him or her.

Character Driven Plot

Tip edited by James Gapinski

A good plot always traces back to character elements. Characters find themselves in situations and must act and react to those situations as best they can. Consider this as you construct the plot of your story.

As a pre-writing exercise, make a list of situations your character might find him or herself in. Then, in a separate column, try and predict what might happen based on what you know about the character.

Writing Prompt: Given First Line

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Write a story beginning with this line: "I didn´t hear you come in last night."

Other Resources:

Short Story Ideas: "First Lines"



   

Reading Lists







Below are several archived tips from the former “Reading Lists” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Fiction Reading List--Novels

Caramelo--Sandra Cisneros

Winter Range--Claire Davis

Love Medicine--Louise Erdrich

Plainsong--Kent Haruf

Beloved--Toni Morrison

Sweet Hearts--Melanie Rae Thon

Books on Writing Reading List

What If: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers--Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter

Fiction Reading List--Short Stories

Trash--Dorothy Allison

A Relative Stranger--Charles Baxter

Among the Missing--Dan Chaon

Woman Hollering Creek--Sandra Cisneros

The Cage Keeper--Andre Dubus III

The Stories of Breece DJ Pancake--Breece DJ Pancake

Out of the Girls Room, Into the Night--Thisbe Nissen

   

Nonfiction







Below are several archived tips from the “Non-Fiction” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Before you sit down to write

Make a list of what you have and don’t have to write this article. Are you working

purely off personal experience? Are you embarking on new territory and need background info and interviews? This pre-writing housekeeping will help you focus your research and may save you time and painful rewrites.

Keep an articles journal

Clip out articles that speak to you or seem examples of good writing. Place them in an articles journal. If you have time, jot down a few thoughts on your entries. When it comes time to write and revise your own articles, you can consult the pieces in your journal for inspiration and direction.

List your experiences and curiosities

Create columns on a piece of paper, with headings HIGHS, LOWS, EPIPHANIES, PASSIONS, and THINGS I’D LIKE TO KNOW MORE ABOUT. Go as far back as memory will allow and fill each column with as many entries as you can. Highs and lows should be self-explanatory--those moments that made you sail or brought you down. For epiphanies, you will want to focus on turning-points--those events that caused a major change in thinking or lifestyle. Obviously there will be some overlap across these three categories.

When you’ve got five or six for each column, take a look. These are your stories. Pick one that grabs you at the moment and set to work.

Online resources for magazine publishing

Magazine Publishers of America

www.magazine.org

Writer’s Market

A comprehensive resource that will point you to editors, agents, and will help you find homes for your work. Available online and in print.

http://www.writersmarket.com/index_ns.asp

Get a magazine collection

Start collecting issues of magazines you would like to publish in. You can buy them individually at bookstores, or get a subscription (saves you $$ if you consult the mag often.)Read cover-to-cover for a good sense of what the publication is looking for.

Interviewing options

The best way to interview is in person. You can audiotape, get a sense of the person in their natural environment, and interact with them on a more relaxed level. However, for the shy or time-pressed, phone interviews are often a good answer. You’ll need to prepare just as if you were meeting your source in person, even though you don’t have to change out of your pajamas.

Email sources can be an option as well, if you’re having trouble landing a meeting with the source. I personally like to save it for follow up questions, but if you don’t need extensive information it can be a quick way to get some questions answered.

Do I need one?

Unless you’re writing from personal experience (using your own voice), a good interview or two can be the difference between a skimpy article and one that punches (and sells!) To be on the safe side, set up a one-on-one with a reliable source and meet with them. You can always cut their info in the final draft if you don’t end up needing them.

Freelance Writing Sources

Occasionally freelance writing sites will post jobs for fiction writers. However, creative writers are luckily enough to find work in all sorts of areas, from marketing to blogging. Below are some links to a few popular freelance writing sites.

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com

http://www.odesk.com

http://www.freelancewriting.com

http://www.guru.com

http://www.craigslist.org

Prepare and consult an articles journal

Clip out articles that speak to you or seem examples of good writing. Place them in an articles journal. If you have time, jot down a few thoughts on your entries. When it comes time to write and revise your own articles, you can consult the pieces in your journal for inspiration and direction.

Prepare & consult an articles journal

Clip out articles that speak to you or seem examples of good writing. Place them in an articles journal. If you have time, jot down a few thoughts on your entries. When it comes time to write and revise your own articles, you can consult the pieces in your journal for inspiration and direction.

   

Miscellaneous







Below are several archived tips from the “Miscellaneous” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Online Diaries

Scribbling on paper isn’t the only way to record your thoughts these days. There are plenty of online journal services that will give you space to vent and philosophize. Most are free!

Check out:

Diaryland

www.diaryland.com

Diarist.com

www.diarist.com

SFWA Nebula Award

Given annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Search winners and finalists for great writers to learn from.

http://dpsinfo.com/awardweb/nebulas/

Haiku

Haiku’s ideally include some element of season or nature in them & are a clever form on their own.

The Basics:

_______________

Haiku has 3 lines and 17 syllabes distributed in 5, 7 and 5. The haiku conveys a "snapshot" impression of a moment, feeling, or observation from nature.

You can find more detailed resources & even submit your haikus on A Haiku Homepage.

http://home.clara.net/pka/haiku/haiku.htm

Links for Crime Writers

Officer.com. Click here for info on just about anything police related.

http://www.officer.com

Romance Writers links

http://www.geocities.com/charlottedillon2000/

Journal Writing Links

Journal For You--a vastly informative site for those wanting to develop their journaling experience.

http://www.journalforyou.com/

Writers Workshops

The Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop is a hub for humor writers and features articles & general info on the business. There is also an annual writing contest and a conference.

http://www.humorwriters.org/

Online Resources

HumorLinks provides an astounding wealth of humor related resources. It’s worth flipping through, even though it also includes a fair amount of joke sites and such.

http://www.humorlinks.com/cgi-bin/sites/page.cgi?d=1&g=index.html

Science writing links

http://www.research.att.com/~andreas/sci.html

Online Workshops

If you’re looking for a journaling workshop, but are low on spare time, consider going online.

http://www.writingthejourney.com/

Nature Writing links

http://www.connix.com/~fmusante/nature/nature.htm

Memoir writing links

Memoir Writing community at Suite 101

http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/memoir_writing

Places that might consider your screenwriting manuscript

StudioNotes.com

http://www.studionotes.com/StudioNotes/index.html

ScriptPimp.com

http://www.scriptpimp.com/home/

Dave Barry´s Miami Herald Column

Dave Barry is a humor writer who manages to be naturally funny (hilarious, even) without ever really going over the top.

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/living/columnists/dave_barry/

How to be funny on demand (link)

http://www.wsws.ca/humor.shtml

Good Writers to Learn From

Contemporary Writers

________________________

Rick Bass

Annie Dillard

Gretel Erlich

Barry Lopez

Farley Mowatt

Terry Tempest Williams

Classical Writers

________________________

Henry David Thoreau

Reading List

Deadly Pleasures is a site that stays up-to-the-minute on crime writing publications. This page provides a good list of crime novels that have received acclaim.

http://www.deadlypleasures.com/dplist2001.htm#U.S. Novels

Writers to Learn From

Isaac Asimov

Ursula K. Leguin

Ideas for entries

Journaling can often be a place to lazily record your thoughts as they meander. But sometimes you will want to experiment with focused writing exercises on a specific topic. Here are some random ideas--add your own to the list.

*My earliest memory

*The sounds of nature

*A terrifying experience

*Being single/involved/married/divorced/widowed

Handmaking a Journal Book

You might enjoy the physical craft of building a journal from scratch. Many cultural centers and craft stores offer workshops on how to put one together. For a reasonable fee, you’ll get materials, fabric, instruction and a place to work. Definitely worth checking out.

Finding an agent

The best place to research agents is with the Writer’s Guild. They keep a log of agents who are active and, most importantly, legit.

http://www.wga.org/agency.html

Independent Mystery Booksellers

The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association is a good resource if you want to find quality crime fiction. You can search for books on the site. Check out their Top 100 list!

http://www.mysterybooksellers.com/favorites.html

Reading List

Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal

by Alexandra Johnson

The best book resource I have come across for journaling. It emphasizes the importance of journaling to creative development and touches on many personal aspects of the genre. Includes great exercises to get you started and stoke your creativity.

Screenwriting links

The Mad Screenwriter

(Download scripts from your favorite movies!!)

http://www.madscreenwriter.com/

Screenwriting Directories & Resources

http://www.dvshop.ca/dvcafe/writing/screenres.html

Sci Fi Writing Associations

Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America

Be sure to check out the page for "Craft." It gives great resources on the basics of Sci Fi Writing.

http://www.sfwa.org/

Links for FanFic writers

Fan Fiction on Force.Net. A community of fan fic writers, with a huge archive and mailing lists.

http://fanfic.theforce.net/

   

Just for Fun







Below are several archived tips from the former “Just for Fun” category. Though some tips were edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Write a Story in Pictures

Instead of a writing a story, create one using pictures you've found on the internet or in old catalogs or magazines. Then, ask a friend to guess the plot of the story! This is a fun game to do with close friends, family, or loved ones.

Haiku for Two

Grab a buddy and head to the park. Jot down a few haikus about the scenery and take turns reading aloud to each other.

Fun with Magnetic Poetry

Grab a Magnetic Poetry box at the bookstore and go wild. Suspend what you know about good poetry and try for the funniest, most absurd, or just plain awful. Get a gang together and have a tournament.

The Dinner Party

Throw a dinner party or other casual gathering for a few friends. Play the kiddie game where one person tells the first few lines of a story, going around the table until each person has gotten to contribute a piece. Let the story wind and meander. Be creative and adventurous. Go around the table until the story is complete. Be sure to video/audio-tape it so that you can make a written transcription later. Put the typed-up version into an attractively decorated booklet and send to your guests as souveneirs of the fun!

Sketch in your journal

Sketching while you think can be a relaxing and fun activity. Forget words today. Just sit on your front stoop and sketch the world as it goes by.

Write under a pseudonym

Write a provocative letter-to-the-editor and submit it to your local newsletter under a pseudonym. If you live in a small town, you’re likely to hear gossip about this mysterious firebrand no one’s ever heard of.

Write from an unconventional POV

Write a short-short or poem from an unconventional POV, such as a space-alien or a hammer. Submit the final piece to a humor journal like the Funny Times (http://www.funnytimes.com)or post it on your personal website.

Join an online writer´s community

Writing communities like Writing.com are great outlets for your creativity when you want to relax and have some fun. You can create and post haikus, write a column about telemarketers, and offer feedback on what other registered authors are doing. You can be as silly or serious as you want.




   

Inspiration













Below are several archived tips from the former “Inspiration” category. Though some tips were created and edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.




An unquiet mind

When you feel your thoughts racing due to stress or excitement in your life, it can be difficult to sit still and get work done. Writers must find ways of focusing on their tasks, because creativity cannot flower in chaos. Experiment with various meditation and relaxation techniques to relax your mind. Simply sitting on a cushion and attempting to gain some control over your thoughts is a good exercise. When you can willingly empty your head of thoughts, you can choose which ones to allow in.

Guy de Maupassant

"Whether we are describing a king, an assassin, a thief, an honest man, a prostitute, a nun, a young girl, or a stallholder in a market, it is always ourselves that we are describing."

"But I Have Nothing To Write About!"

You have nothing to write about? Nonsense! Your life is an exciting mix of conflict, pain, joy, thrills, achievements, disappointments, humor, and terror. Any one anecdote from your experience is the seed for a story. Start a journal. Write down those peaks and lows that make life worth living. Soon you’ll see a thread to tug at and you’ll be on your way.

John Steinbeck

"When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s works is all I can permit myself to contemplate."

Barbara Kingsolver

"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer."

9 to 5

If you’re like most people, you need a job during the day in order to live. How to make time for writing? If you’re serious about pursuing writing, you’ll need to make adjustments elsewhere in your life so that your best hours aren’t used up commuting and sleeping through staff meetings. Look for work that offers flexible hours, days off, and generous personal time. Try to finagle a day or two a week working from home, so you can set your own hours. Get up early. Make your weekends sacred for writing time. Get a cheaper apartment or a roommate to share the rent and decrease your work-week hours. Whatever you decide, write during the same time of day and for the same period of time each session. You will train your creativity to flow then, and in time you’ll start getting a lot done. You don’t need to carve out 40 extra hours a week. Flannery O’Connor wrote everyday from 9 a.m.-12p.m. and published plenty. You will too!

Writer´s Block

Everybody gets blocked at one time or another. Sometimes it lasts a few hours, sometimes weeks or months. And the factors that lead to it are limitless: stress, poor health, mental or physical exhaustion, difficulties in personal relationships, or JUST PLAIN RESTLESSNESS. (In which case, do you really need another trip to the refrigerator?)

When you find yourself blocked, try and figure out why. If you're just feeling rundown, take some time to get your mind and body back into working order. Pounding the keyboard when you're knackered is a losing battle. If it's something more, like a creative standstill, there are exercises you can do to get your juices flowing again. And there's no shame in taking breaks.

Writer's block is NOT, however, something we claim when we'd just rather be sleeping or playing whiffle-ball. Don't blame the muse because you have ants in your pants. Get a routine and try to stick to it, even if it hurts.

William Faulkner

"Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window."

Your unique story

Always remember when you are writing that the thing you are trying to create is valuable because it is coming from you. Your life story is unlike anyone else’s that has ever lived. Your point of view, your impressions are all unique, and so your words are priceless. Remember that in the face of rejection, exhaustion, writer’s block, and frustration.

Eudora Welty

"To imagine yourself inside another person...is what a story writer does in every piece of work; it is his first step, and his last too, I suppose."

Write it down!

Everybody has something unique to say, because they have unique experiences, thoughts, and feelings. There are a million stories floating around your memory banks right now, and probably more in your imagination. Don’t be afraid to write them down!!

Keeping a Writer´s Journal

A writer's journal is a good place to keep track of your goals in general and for a specific piece. Scribble ideas, possible plotlines, work out the structure of your novel. You can also treat your journal like a diary—write about what frustrates you, excites you, makes you laugh. Write about your characters as if they were real people—yet another way to fill them out. When you hear a kicky line of dialogue on the subway, write it down! You might use it in your next story.

Kate Braverman

"Writing is like hunting. There are brutally cold afternoons with nothing in sight, only the wind and your breaking heart. Then the moment when you bag something big. The entire process is beyond intoxicating."

Earnest Hemingway

"My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way."

Giving yourself grief

You need to give yourself a talking-to every now and then. Discipline is, after all, how we find and stick to productive routines. But don’t give yourself such a hard time if you’re having trouble getting a flow going one day. And don’t guilt yourself for turning off your laptop one night and going out for drinks with the girls. You need breaks, time away from the novel to regroup. The guilt-tripping writer is an exhausted writer is an unhappy, unproductive writer.

Albert Einstein

(Ok, he’s not so much a writer, but he did have some wonderful ideas...)

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

Let your imagination go

When writing in your private journal, let your imagination guide you and don’t hold back. Some of our best ideas, some of our best lines come when we’re being honest with ourselves in private.

Finding Inspiration

Inspiration for the budding writer is everywhere.

*Reread those books that first got you interested in writing as a youngster--for me it was JANE EYRE. I thought the story was great, and that Charlotte Bronte was extremely cool for her determination to write what was in her heart. This is where the writerly ambition begins.

*Attend readings and booksignings with writers you admire (and some you’ve never heard of!). Ask questions during the Q&A session--find out how the writer works and what makes him or her set pen to paper.

*Scan the headlines for events worthy of fiction. "Man found dead in home with 300 chickens," etc.

*Make lists of your peak experiences, low points, and moments of epiphane. You will return to these again and again.

Mark Twain

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

A little help from the greats

Not only do established writers have great work to learn from, they also have words of wisdom that may inspire you in your writing journey. If you come across a gem that you’d like to share with the rest of us, feel free to email it to me.

Attend a workshop or seminar

If you think you might like to put some of your thoughts and experiences to paper, consider a workshop or seminar on writing, or sign up for a class at your local university. Many cities have Adult Education institutes which offer affordable instruction in a supportive atmosphere, so you can take multiple classes. Getting feedback from a group is great for helping you grow and gain confidence. You might even end up with new friends!

An infinity of possibilities

As a beginning writer, you have the world at your feet in the sense that you can go in any direction with the stories you want to tell. Essay? Haiku? Short story? Prose poem? Newspaper article? The sky is indeed the limit as long as you are willing to experiment, focus, and not give up.

Keeping a Reader´s Journal

Keep track of what you read each week. It will enhance your growth as a writer by forcing you to think critically about the genre/medium you're trying to master. If you're reading a particularly good short story collection, or a nature essay that speaks to you, take a few minutes and jot down why—see where it inspires you to go.

So much work...How will I ever...?

Michaelangelo said of his art: "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

Think of your writing this way. Don’t worry about how much work you have to do or how hard it’s going to be to complete that novel, screenplay, memoir. Just chip away in little chunks until you discover you’ve gotten somewhere--until you find the angel at the end.

You´re one of the lucky!

Pat yourself on the back for being a sensitive person who wants to do something with those stories, dreams, memories, and moments that make your life your own. If you get discouraged, just remember. Not everybody feels the need to write, and even fewer carry through on that need. You’re incredibly lucky!!

Keep a Little Black Book

Buy a small hardcover journal that can fit in your purse, back pocket, or car. This way, every time you see something that catches your attention that might fit into one of your stories, write it down. Sometimes something that is seen or overheard can help you create the perfect character for your next story!

Visual Inspiration

If you are experiencing writer's block and are unable to think of the right word, situation, character, or story line, one of the easiest ways to get ideas is to browse through photography websites.

Some great websites that have several categories of photos include:

photos.com

Flickr: Explore!

photo.net

Picasa Web Albums: Explore

Freewrite Daily

Freewriting daily in a journal or a blog helps keep the 'juices flowing' even if you are not currently working on a creative writing piece. This makes it a lot easier to come up with ideas when you do start a short story, poem, or novella.

Bonus: A journal or blog may also become a source of your own story ideas if you have writer's block.

Margaret Atwood

"A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason."

Use Your Bad Memories

Think of the most terrible moment of your life. Maybe it was the death of someone close to you, or a very bad breakup or divorce. Even though these moments are in the past, they can still invoke intense emotions. Use your feelings and emotions to create a character or play up a scene in your current writing project. Using your own emotions makes a major difference in the honesty of the story.




   

Getting to the Story







Below are several archived tips from the former “Getting to the Story” category. Though some tips were created or edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Establish Regular Writing Time

Tip created and edited by James Gapinski

Writer’s block happens to everybody at some point, but you can help avoid unnecessary bouts of frustration and unproductiveness by establishing a proactive writing routine.

Dedicate certain times during the day to writing. Eventually you’ll get in tune with the schedule, and when the writing hour dawns, your mind will instinctively slip into author-mode.

What Makes You Happy?

Think of objects, people, or animals that make you the happiest. Using these in stories will help you create positive and engaging energy in your stories or other creative writing pieces. Because happiness is such a strong emotion, it's important to use it whenever possible.

Write the Story Backwards

Tip edited by James Gapinski

If you have a great story idea, but don't know how to start it, start at the ending. Write the ending first and work your way backwards. You'll have a great story in no time.

Drawing on basic emotional experiences

A story can, on one level, be "about" something in the abstract emotional sense. Shame, fear, regret, disappointment, the sense of having failed...These are the emotional elements that cause us to act in life. So consider crafting stories inspired by these emotions.

Examples:
*My most shameful act
*My most painful betrayal
*My most profound regret about someone no longer living.

The unavoidable heart of the matter

Dig deep into the heart of situations you have found yourself in in the past. A story lies not in the infinite mix of details that beget a scene, but in the one unavoidable fact that alone necessitates action from the character. A bank teller is robbed by the kid she used to babysit. A man believes his wife has secretly terminated her pregnancy. Etc. When deciding to recreate a story on paper, you must distill it to the one element that keeps it from going in any other direction and work outward from there. If there’s no *one* element, it may not be the story you want to tell.

Stories about Shame

What are you most ashamed of? The subject of shame is simply fascinating. You can be ashamed of just about anything for just about any reason. Cheated on your girlfriend? Didn’t visit your aunt in the hospital? Made a bad showing at the reunion? You could probably write shame stories for years on end. It is that pervasive to the human experience. We all have things that we wish we had or hadn’t done, and it’s not simple regret. Explore the various shames of your life, and extrapolate from the life stories of others. Shame will get characters moving in some amazing ways!




   

Fiction







Below are several archived tips from the “Fiction” category. Though some tips have been edited by the current guru, James Gapinski, most are the original creations of past Life Tips gurus.

Language

How is your language? Is it fresh and snappy? Do you make good use of sensory material? Are there any sentences which contain vague, unclear, or unhelpful wording? Are there any inappropriately abstract phrases? Are there any word packages which convey unearned emotion or lack freshness? (Ex., "Something broke inside me," "one thing led to another," "once upon a time," etc.)

Show vs. Tell

There are two ways of getting an idea across in fiction--SHOWING and TELLING. Descriptive language which paints a picture of what you want to convey is always the better way--it’s simply more interesting to read. Telling the reader what to think is flat and boring, and does not inspire him or her to read the prose carefully and thoughtfully. Here are some examples.

TELLING: "They held the gala in the big ball room, and the decor was beautiful."

SHOWING: "They held the gala in the big ball room, the one in which the Christmas tree stretched to the ceiling, and gold silk bunting draped the walls. A buffet of fruits, nuts and chocolates stood in the corner."

Clearly, the "Showing" example tells us exactly what the room looked like and why it was beautiful in the narrator’s opinion.

Plot or character?

Good fiction is always character-driven, as opposed to plot-driven. Plot is necessary, in the sense that without things happening, there is very little for the characters to do and consider and react to. But you should be pulling stories from within your characters. What are they afraid of? What do they want? What prejudices or biases do they possess that will motivate them to act? Finding out these things about your characters will give you a wealth of directions for your story to take.

Taking stock of your scenes

List your scenes(or cut out with scissors), so that you can get a sense of what weight they have in the story, whether they belong, are working individually, and are working with the whole. Analyze each carefully. Read them aloud so that you can hear how they would sound if spoken. Make a list of scenes you need to include in the next draft.

Dramatic cliches to avoid

*Beginning with predictable imagery: "It was a dark and stormy night," etc.

*Too much dialogue exchanged over the telephone.

*Killing off characters as a means of resolving their issues quickly

*Allowing "fate," "fortune," or "chance" to be the saving grace at the end.

*Coma-related drama

Let your work get cold

One final note on editing: let your piece get cold for at least an hour before beginning serious edits. A day if you can afford it. Your most objective analysis will occur when your writing has “gotten cold.”

Further Reading on Plot

This page features a concise article on the Top 10 plot hangups for beginning writers.

http://www.sff.net/people/alicia/10prob.htm

A wealth of imagery

Make sure you are injecting your story with plenty of imagery from the characters’ environment. The characters’ senses will take note of things throughout the story, so be sure to include the smell of bread baking, the lap of ocean waves, the grit of beach sand on someone’s toes.

Whose story are you telling?

It’s important to consider whom you want to TELL your story before you begin writing. Point of view means everything. The person narrating your story will tell it in his own peculiar way, due to his vantage point, experiences, biases, etc. Even if the narrator is an omniscient force outside the action, you must be conscious of this so that the narration will be consistent.

What does the narrator know or not know? What are his biases? What attitudes might make his account suspect? What do you hope to accomplish in the story, and would this particular person enable you to do so?

Am I ready to write a novel?

A novel is a complicated thing. Multiply the frustrations you’ve felt with trying to perfect a short story by about 10, and that is the level of focus and maturity required to produce a novel. Use your beginning years to hone craft and gain a mastery of language. A novel will likely flow from some idea one of your mature stories generated. So don’t be in a hurry or pressured to produce the Great American Novel.

Isolate and target problem areas

Periodically take stock of areas in your writing that are giving you trouble. Dialogue? Building enough tension in scenes? Language fresh enough? Do exercises that target these areas and help you improve. This "spot training" will do wonders for your writing.

Inner Life vs. Page Action

In addition to the behaviors and speech we see on the page, your characters must also have an "inner life" that comes through in narrative. You must account for their thoughts, because this is where the real meat of an individual resides. People often do and say things contrary to their real selves and emotions, and they frequently leave things unsaid. Clue us in to the characters’ internal workings so that we can understand them better.

Situation and Character

Plots should unfold because something within a character has caused him to act. Think about real life: your life story unfolds as it does because it is a combination of the situations you find yourself in and the choices you make within these situations. The same is true, or SHOULD be true, of your characters. Don’t lock them into a pre-determined plot. It won’t work out. Be flexible with the chain of events in your story or novel. There are a million directions your character can take it!!

A Story´s Innate Intelligence

At some point in revision, your story will begin to assert its own ideas for how it should develop. Though you are the creator and ultimately in charge of the direction your story takes, you should be sensitive to the "voice" of your story. You are like a sculptor, chipping away at the rock. Something beautiful and perfect lies beneath, and how close to it you get depends on how good you are at using your writerly ears. It takes focus and extreme quiet. You must think. What should the finished product of this story look like? You will no doubt experience the frustration of trying something in your story that just flat refuses to work. This is the story’s way of directing you toward what DOES work. Eventually you have to let go a little, let the story write itself. You MUST be able to admit when something isn’t working--even if it is an idea you love intellectually.

Finding your style

Don’t worry about making your mark, or finding your individual "flair" just yet. Certainly experiment with types of writing, but in the beginning, just focus on how to tell a story and how to produce solid prose. Your individual flair will emerge when you have mastered certain basics.

Starting with conflict

Begin with whatever is eating at your character. Relationship failing? House burned down? Get to the point as quickly as you can. In the first line if possible. The faster you engage your reader in the heart of your story, the more likely they’ll be to finish it. Boring, over-intellectualized beginnings that leave the reader asking "What’s the story here?" are simply doomed.

The trap of "plotiness"

Be careful to avoid stories where outcomes/resolutions depend on an intricately connected chain of external (i.e., non-character-related!) events. Tolkein’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy is an example of what you don’t want happening in your stories. While we love the characters, the real movement of those books depends on surprise events a few pages down the road.

Read it back to me

Take the time to read finished scenes aloud, possibly into a tape recorder, so that you can hear their rhythms as a reader would. Note as you listen to yourself:

*Does the dialogue sound like something real people would say?

*Is the pace of the scene too fast or two slow?

*Do I provide enough narration between lines of speech so that the reader understands the conversation?

What life is this?

When you write a story, you will no doubt choose to center it around a specific situation, into which you will introduce a character. Before he can react to the conflict you throw at him, there must already be a fully constructed life, full of disappointments, joys, pain, etc. The character will meet the new conflict WITH the baggage of his past experiences. Take care to develop this properly. It will help your reader interpret the characters’ behaviors in the "present time" action.

Keep a goals log

It helps to put goals in writing. Before you go to bed at night, jot down what you hope to accomplish in the next day’s work session. Note whether or not you are meeting these goals. This is helpful, especially if you are working on multiple projects.

Editing Yourself

At some point, you have to step outside your role as creator of a piece and start editing it. You have to think objectively and critically about what you've written. What sounds clunky? What language sounds trite or not specific enough? What trains of thought within characters' heads aren't carried through fully enough? Where do you need more or less narration, and more or less scene to balance? These are workpoints you need to consider over and over as you revise a piece. You can always make something better. Try to think of your piece as though you were an editor looking at it for the first time. Pay especially close attention to what Faulkner called “your darlings—“ those little phrases you love & expect the whole world will too. They may need to be cut more than anything!

Journal Writing as an aid

Journal-writing can be a help to isolating your voice. Take note of the issues you find yourself gravitating toward. The ways in which you close off trains of thought. What kind of sensory information you include in your descriptions. Work at exaggerating these things. Pretend that you are a character speaking in the first person about his or her experiences. You will find the pages of your journal filling up. And you might get a new story out of it.

Basic Character Elements

Strong characters in fiction come about by answering the following questions:

*What does my character want?
*What does he fear?
*How does he deal with his emotions?
*What are his social & intimate relationships like?
*What are his past experiences, and how does he regard them?

*What does he view (or not view) as responsibilities to himself and others?

*What elements of the spiritual does he exhibit, and how does he deal with them?

This is just a start. Like real people, characters will be complex and do things that aren’t readily explainable. Dig. Ask questions.

Breaks in time

You do not need to always feed scenes directly into one another. It is fine to insert a "break" into the text, indicating that some time has passed but that nothing occurred in the interim worth reporting. Breaks can also precede changes in point of view.

Author vs. Narrator

Most of the time you want your narrator to do the talking instead of yourself, the writer. You are merely pulling the strings. Give the POV character his own ideas, biases, vantage point, etc.

Forward Movement

A piece of fiction must move forward in some way. Characters must act, react, choose. In other words, keep a line of "things" happening. A plot can neither climax nor resolve if characters are not making decisions and acting. Keep them in the path of other characters, who will force them to make choices and carve out their own destinies.

Notebook of the senses

Carry a small notebook around with you, in which you can write things you observe in the world around you. A kicky line of dialogue on the subway, an unusual animal, a smell in a coffee shop, a dispute between two lovers. The notebook can be your database for sensory material. You can thumb through it when you’re blocked and jump-start your creative juices.

Balancing Scene with Narration

Take care to strike a balance between dramatic scene and narration. If you’re not sure which of the two you need to develop more, take a pair of scissors. Cut out all your dramatic scenes and compare them to the remaining passages of narrative summary/commentary. Is there drastically more of one than the other? You may need to work in the area you’re coming up short in. The odds are, you’re cutting scenes short. In that case, it’s simply a matter of analyzing the individual scenes for places where you can extend the dialogue or be more detailed in the non-speech passages.

Flashback

Flashback is a good method of presenting a character’s past to us. However, you must use it carefully. Never transition into a flashback by saying, "I flashed back to the summer I was sixteen," or "It took me straight back to the night I was robbed." This is clunky, awkward writing. Transition into flashback subtly, without fully disengaging from present time action. Characters are allowed to "remember," but the memory trigger must stay in sight. Return to present time action as quickly as possible.

Middles

In stories and novels, it is often true that the beginnings and ends are strong, while the middle sections tend to sag--long passages leading up to the piece’s climax that don’t seem to have a lot of action or else the action is strung too far apart to be engaging. The middle is a good place to tease out some of the threads you have planted in the beginning chapters. In fact, the middle is what links the beginning to the end, so concentrate heavily on whether or not you are accomplishing this. Make a list of the major threads you want to carry through, and work on tugging at them in, say, pages 100-175. This will keep the piece moving and the reader engaged through the end.

Logistical Bores

Leave out the logistical elements of initiating tasks and general "getting around." In other words, don’t take time to explain in detail how a character gets into a car, drives somewhere (unless critical action takes place ON the drive!), puts on a bathing suit, answers a telephone, or enters a room. We all know how this basic stuff works, and it isn’t worth reporting in real life OR fiction. So leave it out.

Motivation & Conflict

Characters clash because their motivations are incompatible. Think about how this happens in real life. You must isolate those inner qualities that spur a character’s behavior before you put him in a room with a potential sparring partner. Be consistent. The arc of a story eventually traces back to motivation.

What does my story arc look like?

Draw a "time line" on a piece of paper and insert the major plot points from your story. This will help you see where you left things after your first draft. You will see places where you can add or cut a scene. You will see your climax and resolution phases in relation to each other. Then you can ask: does my character need more of a kick in the pants this time around? do I throw him too many curves? does he need to be more/less of a bastard/romantic/worrywart/sycophant/etc.?

Make your characters do the work

One way of fattening up your characters is to have them write letters and diary entries. Let your character "tell" you about himself. You won’t necessarily paste what you write directly into the story, but it will at least give you a broader framework from which to view them. Don’t be surprised if your story takes off in a brand new (improved) direction.

Just another dull conversation?

I keep beating this drum. Dialogue in fiction is NOT what it is in real life. Think of all the conversations you’ve overheard on the subway, in line at the DMV. Most are boring to your ears, right?

As a fiction writer, you get to pick and choose what words and information you put into dialogue. You compress, you edit out the uncompelling elements until you have something succinct that builds in tension and moves the story along.

Sculpting your characters

Good characters in literature stay with us because of the detail with which their creators have written them. Be sure your characters have their own mannerisms, speech patterns, catch phrases, habits, fashion sense, etc., so that they leap off the page.

Finding your voice

Each (good) writer writes with his or her own peculiar way of saying things. Oddly, though, it is often difficult to reach the point where you are writing as “you” and no one else. It is hard to break free of our influences. It is hard to resist mimicking a particularly inventive style in another writer. But finding your writer's voice is perhaps the most important roadblock to conquer in your development. Everything you write will be colored by your outlook and sense of phrasing. Style will grow from it once the voice is found. So let's find it!

How do we do that? Take a look at what you've written so far. Compare one of your stories or poems to those of known writers, and to those of your unpublished peers. What about your work is different from theirs? Is it just a matter of different plots and different names? If so, you have work to do. But if your characters and narration sparkle with even a flicker of freshness, you must work to bring this out in the rest of your work. You want people to read one of your poems and say, “That has GOT to be a Sophie Snarfblatt!”

Emulate, but don´t imitate

It’s fine to be influenced by the style of writers you admire. But be careful that you are not simply imitating what they do. You must write in your own voice, with your own diction, and about the things that matter to you. Simply changing the title and "modernizing" a Chekov story is not authentic writing. The story and the way of telling must be your own.

Beginning vs. End Protagonist

Consider your protagonist at the beginning of the story and again at the end. Do you see changes in his character as a result of what he has experienced? You should be able to.

Writing to Rewrite

When you’re working on a first draft of something, just WRITE. Get the emotions, the character motivations, the general story on paper. Save time-consuming edits for later. We write to rewrite!

Using your senses

Writing is about the five senses. Language that does not work off sight, sound, taste, touch or smell in some way is flat and boring to read. (Can you say stereo instructions?) So bring your descriptions of your fictional world down from the abstract. Put us in the moment so precisely that we don't confuse it with another moment, or worse, a “generic” moment.

Forward movement

A piece of fiction must move forward in some way. Characters must act, react, choose. In other words, keep a line of "things" happening. A plot can neither climax nor resolve if characters are not making decisions and acting. Keep them in the path of other characters, who will force them to make choices and carve out their own destinies.

A Dramatic Push

Tip edited by James Gapinski

Dialogue can often revive a story that has "written itself into a corner" or is otherwise feeling flat. If your story needs livening up, try putting two people in a room together. Give them something provocative to talk about. Let the tension grow as the characters´ agitation grows. This will provide instant plot movement.

The Natural World in Fiction

Some of us are more intuned to nature than others, and will simply notice trees, plants, etc. in their own observations. If you are one of these people, play it up--it’s a great gift. Any physical imagery you provide will only help put the reader further into the moment.

Climax/Turning Point

Whatever situation you place your character in, at some moment in the story he will be forced to start moving, thinking, choosing differently. The action will rise to a point at which it can go no further, only reverse, with great internal changes to the characters. This is most easily seen in novels, but it also works in stories. After the climax, your protagonist will be different. He’s learned something, he’s lost something, he’s figured out why he does certain things. Choose your climaxing action carefully, so that it does justice to the internal struggle the character is undergoing.

What´s not being said

Like narration, good dialogue is about revealing more than it tells. Your dialogue must be subtle enough to suggest those things beneath the surface of literal speech. In other words, to catch what’s NOT being said.

Dialogue Abuse

Read over the rules for dialogue in the "Dialogue" section, and see if you have broken any. You’ll probably want to compress dialogue in the second draft, cutting out um’s and well’s, eliminating rhetorical questions, and packing each line with a little more punch. Look for places where you can bury instead of quote.

Novels vs. Short Stories

Short stories are not baby novels, nor are novels necessarily expanded short stories. A particular story is told in novel form because the short story is neither roomy nor flexible enough to deal with it. Novels go into vastly greater depth, and they can accomadate more POV variation. In the end, novels must come to a point of closure that short stories are allowed to avoid.

Tone

Be conscious of the tone with which you are writing. Are you sarcastic? Serious? Simply poking fun? Make sure this is appropriate to your subject matter. Irony during a funeral scene must be handled just right, for example.

Tight, clean prose

Edit your prose--the individual words and sentences--so that each line is tight and clean. ALL words must be relevant, well-chosen, and evocative. Working words, in other words. Comb your story for words which, standing alone, say or add nothing. Scan for cliche’s and trite-sounding language. Verbs should be active, adjectives descriptive, and adverbs nearly always absent.

The rule of thumb for line-editing is this: the simplest word that still conveys your meaning is best. Anything fluffier is just getting in the way

What is prose texture?

Prose texture is literally the "feel" of your writing. Every writer has a unique combination of diction, rhythm, and images that sets the sound and feel of a passage apart from another writer’s. Pay attention to how your writing sounds when read aloud. Often the difference between and good and amazing story is in the texture of the writing.

Body Language

Pepper your passages of dialogue with beats of body language. A character nervously tugs his ear, sips a beverage, coughs and covers his mouth, etc. This keeps the reader visualizing the scene and contributes to its rhythm.

Concrete Detail

Good writing, whatever the form or genre, depends on its use of concrete details and images. Your prose texture should be a weaving of minute detail that puts the reader in the EXACT moment you have in your own mind. These details will set your moment apart from others that might occur in fiction. For example, when speaking of love, offer details and images from the senses that indicate why your take on the subject is unique. Tell how you love your lover’s blue hair, or the way the birthmark on her hand resembles Richard Nixon in profile. Anything to create a real, original scene.

Keeping track of characterization

Since novels are large, it is helpful to keep a written account of the specifics of each character´s inner self. Likes, dislikes, catch phrases, experiences, favorite possessions, etc. This will help you stay consistent through to the end and probably save you some revision time.

Focusing on an image

Many wonderful stories center around a single image that carries thematic weight. Experiment with some free-writing on an image that speaks to you and see if a story could surround it. If you’ve already got an image that grabs you, see what happens when you place it in the first line of the story. Make sure you build up some tension around it--in other words, it will need to have some meaning for each character in order to carry meaning throughout the story.

Dialogue--Tread Lightly

Dialogue must be carefully written, paced, and chosen. Speech in fiction is NOT the same as speech in real life. Dialogue should only be used when narrative summary won’t suffice. It exists to give flavor to a character’s speech and to illuminate his or her motivations--try to avoid using it to simply convey information.

Burying your dialogue

Sometimes it´s better not to use quoted speech in a story. This is true if what a character is saying can easily be summarized by the narrator. This is what we call "burying" the dialogue. Alternating passages of buried speech with quoted speech often improves the scene´s rhythm. Here is an example of a line of speech we could easily bury, because its info can be summarized without sacrificing flavor: "The shopgirl put the bracelet into a paper bag and rang him up. ´I´ll just put your receipt in the bag.´ she said." We don´t need to "hear" the clerk say she´s going to put the receipt in the bag.

A writer´s routine

If you’re going to fully tap your creativity, you need to write within a predictable routine each session.

*Try to write at the same time every day

*Minimize distractions--take the phone off the hook, don’t work in site of the fridge or TV.

*Take meal and stretch breaks at pre-set times, if possible.

Using dialogue to flesh out characters

One simple way of providing information about characters, particularly the POV character, is to drop it subtly into a line of speech from another character.

This example, from Shirley Jackson’s story "ELIZABETH", shows us how another character views the narrator:

"When {Elizabeth} came to her stop...and when she reached the door, the woman was near it, staring at her as though wanting to remember her face. "Dried-up old maid," the woman said loudly, and the people around her in the bus laughed." p.154

In this way, the author reveals information about Elizabeth that she could not reveal for herself--that she has gotten old before her time and, as the rest of the story bears out, has moments of extreme pretension.

Experiment with injecting character detail into dialogue.



   
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