17 Apr

Mood Collage

Posted in Creativity, DIY MFA, Tips, Writing

Remember back in grade school when we used to cut up magazines and glue pictures together to make beautiful artwork?  Well, believe it or not, collaging is actually a great way for writers to explore and express the mood of their project.

I actually learned the benefits of this technique when I was in art school.  “Mood boards” were an integral part of each portfolio presentation and we learned the importance of capturing the essence of a project through imagery.

How do you make a mood collage?  There are no rules.  You can clip pictures from magazines or cut out letters and words in different fonts.  It doesn’t even need to be concrete objects or words; you make a cool background by using printed fabrics or pretty papers.  Use whatever inspires you.  Lay out the pieces in a way that inspires you and move things around until you’ve got a design that you love.  Finally, break out the glue-stick or glue-gun and start sticking the pieces down.

I happen to have Photoshop and I’m into that techie stuff so I actually do my collages digitally.  That way I can print them out in different sizes, email them to people or even post them here on the blog.  To that end, here are a few mood collages I’ve done.  The ones included below are for products I’ve designed, but the same idea applies to mood collages for writing projects.

Mood collage for a road trip project.

Mood collage for a tween fashion project

Mood collage for a project representing the experiences
of girls and women from different cultures.

Homework: Set aside an hour sometime this next week to make a mood collage for your work-in-progress.  Clip pictures from magazines or print images you find online and cut them up.  If you like, while you’re clipping pictures and gluing, listen to some mood music that inspires your story.  The idea with this project is to get completely immersed in the mood of your work-in-progress.

Once you’ve finished your collage, give it a place of honor in your writing space.  You could even take a picture and share with us it on the DIY MFA FB page if you like.  Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

Now you tell me: what do you do to capture the mood of your current writing project?


13 Apr

5 Tips for Keeping Up with Writing and Life

Posted in DIY MFA, Process, Tips

It starts with the best of intentions.  We set big goals.  Thousands of words a day.  Finish a novel in a month.  You name it.  It’s all done with the noblest ideals at heart.  Trouble is, sooner or later we all get burned out.

Today, as we near the midway point of DIY MFA 2.O, I wanted to talk about keeping up: both with DIY MFA itself and with your writing in general.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when the goals get big and there’s a lot at stake.  I know.  I’ve been feeling that way myself lately.  Here are some tips that help me when deadlines loom large and the stress monster rears his ugly head.

1) Work in short spurts.  I’ve talked about the Pomodoro app before, but this idea of working for short spurts then taking breaks has worked brilliantly for me.  When I know I only have to focus on something for a short while, it makes it easier to ignore interruptions.  I let the phone go to voicemail.  I let emails sit in my inbox just a little bit longer.  And it’s OK, because it’s only for 25 minutes.

2) Take breaks.  It’s really easy to work through your breaks, especially if your “work time” before that was only a short spurt.  Even so, take a few minutes every hour or so to get up and stretch.  You’ll want to stretch your arms and wrists (to prevent repetitive motion injury) as well as your legs, since writing is so sedentary.  Also if the bulk of your work is done at the computer, take a minute or two to look out the window.  Not only might it give you some writing ideas, but it can help rest your eyes and prevent eye strain.  Most importantly, taking breaks helps you rest your brain.

3) Save some writing for later.  Don’t stop working at a logical stopping point.  If you wrap up your writing day too neatly (at the end of a chapter, or short story) then it’s all that much harder to pick it up the next day.  Instead, try stopping in the middle of a scene or even in the middle of a sentence.  If you’re writing a goal number of words, stop when you hit that goal even if it’s in the middle of a thought.  When you come back the next day you’ll find it that much easier to jump in and keep going.

4) Avoid binging.  As with anything in life, moderation is key.  If you’re starting to feel like you’re going on a writing binge, dial back the intensity.  Better to write 200 words per day for a week, than to write a thousand in an hour and not write for another two weeks.  Remember the fable and aim for slow and steady.

5) One thing at a time. This goes back to the idea of the short spurts and Pomodoro.  One of the reasons that technique works so well is that you focus on one thing at a time for a set number of minutes.  Not only is this good for maintaining focus and efficiency, it also helps maintain sanity.  These days, everyone tries to do eight million things at once.  Talk on the phone while they surf the web and walk across the street.  Check email and work and tweet all at the same time.  I prefer to do one thing mindfully at a time, give it my full focus and when I’m done, I focus on something else.

Bonus DIY MFA Tip: Use Your Idea Bank

I know it can be tough keeping up with all the prompts this time around.  DIY MFA 2.O is not like the first DIY MFA where all you had to do was read the posts and the homework can get overwhelming.  If you can’t get to a prompt, don’t worry.  Just write it on a slip of paper and tuck it away in your Idea Bank.  Just like saving pennies for a rainy day, you’ll be saving writing ideas for when you’re ready to use them.

This week, at our Facebook page, I’ll share pictures of the new Idea Bank I found at a thrift store.  Feel free to share pictures of your own Idea Bank too.  I’d love to see what you come up with.

Homework: Today your homework is to give yourself a break.  It doesn’t have to be a long break–30 minutes will suffice–but it needs to be a break nonetheless.  Do something fun.  Something relaxing.  Something that’s not writing.  This is not optional.  You are not allowed to work and call it “fun.”

When you’re done doing your something fun, please share it in the comments or on twitter!  I’m dying to hear all about it.


11 Apr

ABCs of Story Analysis

Posted in DIY MFA, Plot, Tips, Writing, Writing Exercises

Today’s technique is one I learned from my thesis adviser and I found it so helpful that it’s stayed with me.  While you can use this technique to develop your own stories, you can also use it as a method of analyzing stories that you read.  Today, I’d like you to take a few minutes and read Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find.

This story is one of my favorites in terms of plot development because while it follows the ABC method beautifully, it is by no means predictable.  In fact, even though you know what’s going to happen, it’s one of the most suspenseful stories I’ve read.  What keeps you reading is the How.  You might have a hunch what the ending will be but you want to know how we get there.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  First the ABC method of Story Analysis.

A = Action.  The action sets the story in motion.  Some teachers give this a fancy name–“inciting incident”–but really all that means is that an action has to kick-start the story.  (Tip: If it takes too long for an action kick in, maybe you need to start the story closer to where the action starts.)

B = Background.  At some point early in the story, you need to establish who these characters are and what their story is.  This doesn’t mean giving pages and pages of back-story.  Rather, a few well-placed details can give us all the background we need.

C = Conflict.  This is probably the most important element in your story.  Without conflict, you might have a great sequence of events or a lovely character study, but you don’t have a story.  90% of the time, the conflict comes from the character wanting something and an obstacle getting in his/her way.

D = Development.  Most of the story or novel occurs in this phase.  This is where we see various obstacles get in the character’s way.  This is where subplots emerge.

E = Ending.  The ending consists of 3 C’s: Crisis, Climax and Consequences.

  • Crisis: The events leading up to the climax.
  • Climax: This is the final showdown, the big event at the end of the story/novel where everything unravels.
  • Consequences: Also called “Denouement” is where some or all of the plot threads are tied together.

Now you know the ABC method, I’d like you to look at the Flannery O’Connor sometime this week and try to identify the different elements in that story.  It’s not a very long story, but take your time with it and really try to pick apart how O’Connor crafts this story.  The ABC elements are your guide.

Homework:  This week I would like you to read and analyze A Good Man is Hard to Find.  In addition, today, I’d like you to take at a piece of your own writing and examine it using the ABC method.  Jot down some notes on how elements A-E and the 3C’s function in your piece.

What did you discover from your analysis?  Did you notice any elements missing from your story?


20 Mar

DIY MFA: Writing Sprints and a Marathon

Posted in Blog, DIY MFA, Info, Tips

Today I wanted to give you all an update on DIY MFA.  Over the next two weeks , I’ll be doing a few lead-up “DIY MFA Orientation” posts, explaining some background (especially important if you’re new to DIY MFA and didn’t participate in the fall).  A week from this Monday, I’ll be opening sign-ups for DIY MFA 2.O and I’ll be announcing a sooper-seekrit, sooper-exciting giveaway.

But first off, I wanted to talk about two things that I’m really excited about but are new to DIY MFA this time around.  These are: writing sprints and a writing marathon.

Every Saturday during April, I’ll be doing DIY MFA Writing Sprints.

Here’s how it works:  I’ll be blocking out a chunk of time (between one and three hours) each Saturday in April to make a mega-push on my writing.  Sure, this might mean making some sacrifices–like waking up an hour, or two, or three earlier than usual (ugh)–but we writers need to get used to making sacrifices for our work.  These sprints will be good practice.

I’m telling you about these sprints because I’d love for you to join me!

I’ll be making some iggilicious badges that you can post on your blog to show off your awesome weekend accomplishment.  Also, you can use the twitter hash tag #diymfa to share how long or how much you wrote.  If you don’t tweet, you can also share your results in the comments for that day’s DIY MFA post.  Cheer-leading other DIY MFA tweeps is strongly encouraged.  The idea is to create an online community of DIY MFAers writing together and encouraging each other even if they’re in totally different locations across the globe.

On Sunday May 1st, to celebrate the end of DIY MFA, I’ll be doing a Writing MARATHON.  This idea was inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones but is a little bit different.  Rather than committing to a specific time/place, writers can commit either to a full marathon (~6 hours) or a half marathon (~3 hours), then write those hours whenever or wherever during that day.

I myself will camp out somewhere in NYC and write ALL DAY.  I’ll post where I’m writing so that folks in NYC can come by and join even if it’s just for a short sprint.  Also, like with the sprints, people are encouraged to tweet their progress and encourage each other to make it through the marathon.  At the end of the day, we’ll have a post-marathon, post-DIY MFA twitter party!

So my question for you is: are you in?


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