26 Sep

Writing Out

Posted in Brain Boot Camp, DIY MFA

One of my favorite things to do is going on a writing date.  Sometimes I go alone, sometimes I’ll meet up with a fellow writer and we’ll sit and write side-by-side for a while.  Over the past few years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned that there’s a certain code for writing out.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

1)  If you’re writing in a cafe or restaurant, try to avoid rush hours.   Chances are, the lunch rush at your favorite cafe will be busy and noisy and not conducive to writing.  If you go during an off-hour, like between meals, not only are you likely to get more writing done because it won’t be as hectic, but you also won’t tick off the staff by taking up a table just to sip coffee and write.

2)  If it’s a cafe with table service, order food and leave a good tip.  This is especially important if you want to become a regular and come back again to write.  Once you’ve established that you’re not just there to take up space and that you’re a good tipper, the waitstaff is more likely to give you some perks, like a regular table or even the occasional freebie.

3)  Know when it’s time to say goodbye to a writing spot.  If your favorite, best-kept-secret spot suddenly becomes THE place to be, then it’s time to find a new writing locale.  There’s this amazing little tea shop near me where I used to go to write and draw in my sketchbook.  It used to be so quiet that I could sit there for two hours and just order a pot of tea (and sometimes they’d even give me a scone on the house!)  Then this place got super-popular and now good luck getting a table for lunch or tea, much less a spot to sit and write.

At the risk of these places getting uber-popular and being overrun with writers, let me share some of my writing spots in NYC:

Shakespeare Garden in Central Park (that’s where the photos come from – it’s near the Great Lawn, toward the SW end, and near-ish the 81st West Side entrance to the park.)  This beautiful, quiet garden is great for writing or just sitting and contemplating life.
s’Nice on 8th Ave, just south of 14th St. or in Brooklyn (5th Ave btwn 2nd and 3rd St.) Yummy sandwiches and salads.  They’re sort of sticklers about not using laptops on certain tables but if you sit at the communal table it’s no problem.
The Atrium at Lincoln Center (Broadway between 62nd and 63rd St.)  Free wifi!  Also the space is completely free and open to the public.  And some Saturdays they even have free live classical music.
Le Pain Quotidien a Belgian bistro that has branches all over the city.  My favorite one is the Lincoln Center space on 65th between Broadway and CPW.  They get a bit mobbed with the lunch crowd but later in the afternoon it quiets down and is a great place to sit and work.

Do you have a favorite spot to “write out”?  What about the “writing out” code… do you have any additional tips to share?


25 Sep

Keeping a Journal

Posted in Brain Boot Camp, DIY MFA, Process

Before I started writing seriously, before I even started writing fiction at all, I kept a journal.  I have journals dating back to when I was nine years old and my biggest concerns were dealing with the school bully or trying to figure out if The Boy liked me.  Of course, some notebooks have gotten lost over the years, and there are definitely some dry spells in there when I didn’t write at all, but between then and now I have a pretty good written record of what was pressing on my mind through the past twenty-or-so years.

OK, so I kept a journal.  So what?  I’ve learned several things from all this journal-writing and I’ve discovered that not only has it made me a better writer, it’s also made me a better thinker.  If you don’t keep a journal, I highly recommend you start, but before you do, read on to find out more about what you’ll gain from it.

What does keeping a journal entail?

1)  A journal can be whatever you want it to be.  There’s no law that says you have to keep a daily diary or that a journal must record your deepest, secretest thoughts.   The truth is, you can write whatever you want in your journal.  I write a lot of lists: to-do lists, lists of post topics for my blog, lists of character names or story ideas.  You name it… there’s probably a list like that in one of my notebooks.  I take my notebook with me when I go to talks or conferences and jot down notes or interesting quotes from the speakers.  I often find that seeing my notes on paper helps me better understand the concepts at hand.

Tip:  Make journal-writing fun.  Draw cartoons or doodles–iggi started out as a random doodle in one of my journals.  Clip funny pictures and paste them in your notebook.  Oh, and don’t forget… Stickers!

2)  Verbal spillage is OK.  Sometimes you just need your journal to be a catch-all for the junk that’s in your head.  Julia Cameron, of The Artist’s Way, advocates writing 3 pages longhand every morning (she calls them Morning Pages) to get all those mundane ideas out of our heads and onto paper.  Then once we’ve cleared our brains of the clutter, we’re ready to be creative.  I agree with her thinking, though I’ve loosened the requirements for myself.  I don’t always write 3 pages and I rarely do it in the morning because I’m just not functional until I’ve had my coffee.  But I think it’s a great idea to put your nagging thoughts and worries on paper to clear them from your mind.  Once I’ve written in my notebook, my thinking feels sharper, clearer, more focused.  I think that’s why I write so many lists… to get all those pesky ideas out of my head so I can think straight.

Tip:  Try not to let your inner censor interfere with your journal writing.  Toss the words on the page, then shut the notebook and trap them in there so your inner censor can’t judge.

3)  Longhand.  While some people might prefer keeping a journal on their computer or iPad or iPhone or what have you, I am a firm believer in writing longhand.  There are two reasons for this.  First, writing longhand allows your brain time to mull things over between when the thought leaves your mind and when it travels all the way down your arm to your pen.  Typing is more immediate and it’s a lot easier to type without thinking.  If the purpose of keeping a journal is to improve one’s thinking then it stands to reason that longhand would better serve the writer than typing would because longhand forces you to think things over.

Second, I find that handwriting is a great diagnostic tool.  My handwriting changes drastically depending on my mood and state of mind.  Even writers whose handwriting stays pretty stable will see subtle shifts in their print and script over time.  Looking through a notebook, I can quickly tell what mood I was in during a given time period based on how messy the writing is, how big the lettering is or how hard I pressed the pen.  These are all diagnostic clues that tell me what was going on between the lines when I was writing those words.

Tip:  If you use different colored pens, that’s another great insight to what your mood was.  After all, you must’ve chosen that color pen for a reason.

4)  Write something every day.  One of the great things about Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages concept is that by the time you’re done, you’ve already written 3 whole pages and it’s only the morning.  Granted, those pages may be nothing more than lists or gripes or worries but at least you’ve been writing.  I feel the same way about my notebook.  When I feel stressed out or intimidated by the computer, I pull out my notebook and start writing there.  I find it much easier to approach the computer if I already have something written.  If I’m just typing it up, it’s a lot less scary than having to face that blank-screen-of-death.  Writing in a notebook where I can be messy and make mistakes makes writing “no big deal” and the less of a big deal I make my writing, the more of it actually gets done.

Tip:  I used to keep my notebook on the floor right next to my bed so that when I woke up, I would literally trip over it and remember to do some writing.

Today’s Task:  If you don’t keep a journal, go to a store and pick out a notebook that you love, one that will be inviting and fun to write in.  Make your journal writing festive so invest in a pretty-colored pen or some stickers.  If you have old magazines lying around, clip some pretty pictures and paste them on the cover or in your journal.

Tell me, do you keep a journal or notebook?  Have you found that it helps you think more clearly when you sort ideas out on paper?


19 Sep

Guest Post: Merrilee Faber Writes About Creative Revision

Posted in Brain Boot Camp, DIY MFA, Process

Today’s guest post is by Merrilee Faber who recently hosted a Creativity Workshop on her blog Not Enough Words.  In this post, she approaches the revision process from a creative standpoint.  Thank you, Merrilee!

But first, a short bio.  Merrilee Faber lives in the sand and fly infested west of Australia, where she battles giant spiders and venomous snakes every day in a desperate attempt to survive.  When not defending her family from Australia’s deadly denizens, she tries to earn a crust by telling people what to do, with moderate success.  She is a consummate liar, but gets away with it by calling it “fiction”.  You can get to grips with Merrilee at her blog Not Enough Words (http://notenoughwords.wordpress.com).

Revision would have to be the least popular part of the writing process.  You’ve slaved for weeks, months (even years!) to produce this manuscript; through the good days and the bad days and the why-didn’t-I-take-up-cat-herding-it-would-be-easier days. 

Now here you are, exhausted, drained, a rumpled, coffee-stained manuscript in your hands, facing the realization that you are not finished yet.  That there is so much more work to do.

Is it any wonder our tired muse rebels?  So we rush through revision, changing a word here, a scene there, cutting great chunks out of the story because we have to.
After all this time we want nothing more than to be complete.  So we tuck the muse away and approach revision like a dirty job that has to be done.

But revision can be, should be, as creative a process as writing the first draft.  The revision stage is an opportunity to turn your story up a notch.  And this is something you cannot do without engaging your creative side.

So how do you go about creative revision?

Let the landscape of your story become unknown.  If you are too familiar with the story, it is more difficult to write fresh.  I recommend at least a month, and that month spent thinking and writing other stories.

We tend to fall in love with prose, and don’t want to change what sounds good.  But you must be prepared to scrap everything, even those sentences you love, to improve your story.  And you can only do this as a dispassionate observer.

Question every decision
Fiddling with word choice and rearranging scenes and phrases is just cosmetic.  While it’s nice to tidy, you need to go deeper.  Get your hands dirty. 

Look at every choice you made while writing.  Was it the right choice?  What can you change to make this moment/character/scene stronger, tighter, have more impact?  Dig beneath the surface and find more meaning, more impact from the events in your story.  Keep that inspiration coming, because more often than not, the second idea is better than the first.

 Build depth and complexity
Revision is the time when you should be adding metaphor.  Placing foreshadowing for critical events.  Developing and strengthening your theme.  Retooling your characters to add subtle layers to their psychology.  Don’t be content with what you already have.  Add layer upon layer to your narrative.  Add touches of colour and voice.  Build a web of character and event and place so tight that no-one can escape the clutches of your story.


Make every word pull its weight
You are wordy.  Don’t deny it.  Embrace the fact, and then get out the hacksaw.  90% of your adjectives can go, and 99% of your adverbs.  There will be repetition everywhere.  Say it once, say it right.  Bin the rest.

This may not sound creative, but this is where you use your creativity as a fine-pointed tool.  Slice delicately.  Excise, tune, think about every phrase, every word choice you have made.  Does this word or phrase convey the tension, the impact of the moment?  How can I say it stronger?

And of course, now is the time to get rid of all the clichés.  It’s fine to use them in the first draft – they’re fast and simple and you don’t need to think about them.  But leaving clichéd phrases and ideas in the final manuscript is a crime against literature, and even worse, it’s boring.  Don’t be a bore.

Revising creatively leads to a stronger manuscript.  If you approach this important stage without your creativity engaged, you are short-changing your story. 

So next time you are facing a first draft that needs review, let go of that feeling of dread.  Approach the revision stage with joy, knowing that you are still creating.  That your inspiration is just as important now as it was when you started to write.


18 Sep

Guest Post: Michelle Davidson Argyle Discusses Self-Publishing

Posted in Brain Boot Camp, DIY MFA, Literature

Today I have the pleasure to introduce a guest post by Michelle Davidson Argyle.  Michelle is the author of the novella CINDERS and she’ll be sharing her insights about the self-publishing process.

Michelle is a contributor over at The Literary Lab, which is where I was first introduced to her writing and we bonded over a mutual love of poetry.  When CINDERS was published, I jumped at the opportunity to read and review it and fell in love with Michelle’s lyrical writing style.  But before I gush any more, I’ll let Michelle share her self-publishing experiences.

Read on to hear about Michelle’s self-publishing insights and advice and also for info on her blog tour this week and an awesome giveaway!


First of all, thanks to Gabi for having me over here! Gabi was interested in knowing about the self-publishing process and how it relates to creativity.

When I first decided to publish CINDERS, I knew I’d have to have a marketing plan in place and create an awesome cover and figure out how to not only get the word out about the book, but get them to want to buy the book. This is trickiness on all sorts of slippery levels. There is no sure-fire way to sell a book, and every book is different. I’ll admit I had to get really creative to figure out what would work best for CINDERS.

With a traditional publisher, you’ve got press releases and marketing strategies already in place. They take a book because it fits a certain strategy that is most likely tested and true. For me, this being my first self-published work, I had to figure it all out from scratch, and I’m still figuring it out.

(1) Pick a genre – I decided to market CINDERS as seemingly Young Adult, although it’s much more adult than YA. I did this because I knew the older YA readers would pick up on it and spread it around. The YA market is filled with eager, actively engaged and loyal readers. This looked like a good start, and my cover has a very YA feel, as well. That, and the novella truly does have a wide age appeal, both male and female.

So…you’re saying…but it’s not YA…Yes, true, on a certain level. That may be a matter of perspective. Walk into the bookstore and see what books are on the shelves that could be shelved in 5 other spots than where they’re placed. Marketing. It’s slippery.

(2) Because I self-published CINDERS – and wrote it to self-publish it, I knew I could go anywhere with it and do anything I wanted as long as it came out a professional, well-written story. Knowing this opened creative doors I never even knew were there. I wrote the book faster and with more excitement than I have ever written any long work. I did few revisions and let few people read it before its release. Keep in mind I’d written 3 novels before this and had been writing for 16 years.

(3) I’ve had to be open-minded about creativity during every step of this publication – since I’ve had to wear many, many hats: writer, editor (with help), designer, artist, photographer, marketer, secretary, mailman, website designer…and on and on.

Why would I want to do all this?

I like to learn. I like to take risks. I like forging my own path. And I knew I was ready…

That’s probably the trickiest thing of all.

In the end, CINDERS has done well according to my standards. It’s out there and available and selling. I’m getting it into bookstores. People I’ve never met before are reading it – one of my ultimate rewards for creativity!


The Blog Tour!  Michelle will be giving a blog tour this coming week (starting tomorrow!)  She’s hosting a FANTASTIC contest related to the blog tour, so check out the link and visit the stops on her tour for a chance to win.

The Giveaway!  Here at iggi&gabi we’re hosting our own CINDERS giveaway.  Leave a comment below and you’ll be automatically entered and one lucky reader will get a signed copy of CINDERS.  So leave your comments between now and Thursday (Sept 23, 11:59 EST) and I’ll pick the lucky winner by lottery and announce it in Friday’s Week-in-Review.


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