Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

poem-the hair dresser was gossiping February 11, 2020

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:28 am
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Are you related to? she asked

naming names.

Not those.

These, I reply.

Ah! Her!

Yes! So, you’re the writer!

I am.

and she’s a?

Yes.

She said that…

It was actually like this…

Oh!

I am a writer, too

but I’m not published yet.

I can help.

Small town networking.

 

 

writing- 5 escapes from Writers’ Block November 18, 2019

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:15 pm
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Diana Gabaldon once told us that she doesn’t believe in Writer’s Block; she thinks it’s more about Writer’s Inertia.

i.e.

An object (writer) at rest remains at rest.

An object (writer) in motion (writing) remains moving (writing).

So what is the solution when you are writing and come up against a brick wall?  Just because it feels like a block, doesn’t mean it is.  You may need to give that project a rest from your conscious mind and let your subconscious work things out.  To do that, you may need to distract your conscious mind a bit.  You may not need to keep moving forward, so long as you keep moving.

Don’t fret about it or dig yourself into a quicksand state of mind when you’re really just walking on the beach.  Yeah, it may be a bit of a workout, but it’s not killing you.

Here are 5 suggestions to deal with Writers’ Block:

1. Write something else.

Stuck with your novel?  Write a short story, maybe in your novel world, maybe something completely different.  Write a poem.  Write an article.  Writing is writing.  You’re still making progress even if it’s not on your main project.  If you step away, eventually you’ll see something from a distance that you missed while you were too close.

2. Put the problem that’s stymied you into your subconscious.

Before you go to bed, think about the issue you’re struggling to resolve.  Consider each character and what the problem is, and often in the morning you will wake up with a solution.

3. Just write ANYTHING about those characters.

Ignore the main project and just play with your characters.  Conduct an interview with your protagonist, your antagonist, a minor character or two.  Write a letter to their grandmother, their fourth grade teacher, the kindergarten best friend, etc as a way into their psyche.  Bonus!  These sorts of things are awesome bonus material for your newsletter subscribers!

4. Pick up a Writing Thesaurus

These amazing resources by Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi are fantastic.  Everything is at your fingertips!  Go through the thesaurus, noting character traits that are relevant to the character you’re dealing with and consider how the traits could impact characters’ choices. (I use Emotional Wound Thesaurus. Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition. Negative Trait Thesaurus. Positive Trait Thesaurus) These seem to always give me lots of ideas to resolve whatever stalls me.

5. Timed write

Set the timer, start writing and don’t pause or overthink.  Put words down for 10 minutes on anything relating to the characters, their living situation, their past choices, their wishes, their families, etc.  Write out possible endings.  Imagine a character telling their therapist about what’s frozen them and why they (their story) aren’t going forward.  Free write in stream of consciousness.  Usually something shakes loose and you’ll get some direction for your project. Oh- and if something comes to mind that you instantly think “NO! You can’t write THAT down!” that is ABSOLUTELY something you NEED to write down!  THAT thing is probably the plug causing all your trouble.  PULL THAT PLUG!!  Write it down!

I think a sense that you’re ‘blocked’ is often your brain falling for the ‘this isn’t good enough’ lie and getting all caught up in getting something ‘right’ on the page.  A first draft is about finishing, not about perfection, so tell that inner critic to shut up while you power through your crappy first draft, and promise to let the critic work out all the issues in the second draft, when you need a critical eye to get things cleaned up.  You can’t edit a blank page.  Even the worst writing can be fixed.  Get writing!

Sometimes it’s okay to realize you don’t know where the story goes next.  This is a common pantser problem! We write ourselves into corners and need some ingenuity to work our way out.  Sometimes we need to erase the trail and go back a scene or two to change direction.  Sometimes we just have to wait in our painted corner until the resolution appears (or the paint dries!).  In the meantime, keep writing.  When you’ve forgotten that troublesome piece, when you return to it, often the solution pops up as you re-read it!  Time is a cure.  Just work on something else while you let that project simmer.  Simmering isn’t a block.  Things taste better if they’ve simmered a while.

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Enough clichés for you in this?  🙂

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Go forth and write.  You’ve got this.

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PS. I’m an Amazon affiliate.

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SiWC workshop notes- Diana’s Managing a Mob October 28, 2019

Here are my notes from Diana Gabaldon’s Managing a Mob workshop:

Diana- Managing a mob

20191027_124025[1]

Diana Gabaldon SiWC 2019

 

Tangled April 2, 2019

Filed under: Poetry,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:09 am
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Be tangled in the words.

Weave yourself ability.

Knit a world.

Unravel negativity.

Crochet characters uncurled

Stitch together possibilities.

Wind yourself in words.

 

 

quote-write for kids March 13, 2019

Filed under: Quotations,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:09 pm
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“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

~Madeleine L’Engle

How profound is this?  And what a truth!  Some of the most powerful literature is written for kids. It challenges thinking and shines a light on what the world is like, encouraging them to question the status quo and make changes to improve society.

 

writing-conference power February 19, 2019

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 8:49 pm
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I’m a huge advocate of the writing conference as a crucial key to a writer’s development.  For many years, I thought they were silly and over-priced.  I figured I could learn anything I needed to know by reading books about the writing craft and business.

What I didn’t understand was the importance of connection.  Writers tend to be solitary creatures. Their creativity happens when they’re alone.  Often our friends and family members don’t understand the stress of having to kill off a character we love, or the trauma of maintaining our words per day quota, or the soul-destroying nature of the twelfth (or hundred and twelfth) rejection letter for a project we adore.

Other writers do.

When you sit in a room with other writers, hear their stories, and realize they have the same kind of feelings and experiences you do, you realize you aren’t the only one. You’re not weird! (Well, maybe you are, but it’s probably a good weird, and you realize there are a lot of weirder people and you thoroughly enjoy being in their weird company!).  You feel like you belong.  You listen, you learn, you laugh, and you long for it to last.

Next March I am going to a new conference for me: Creative Ink in Burnaby, BC.  I see that some of my friends from other conferences (Surrey International, When Words Collide in Calgary, Word on the Lake in Salmon Arm) will be there. How great!

If you’re in BC and you’ve never been to a conference, this one is a good price ($80 for the weekend) and has some phenomenal people presenting and attending, so I already know it’s going to be great.  Learn about the craft and business of the writing life.  Share some weird.  Enjoy some fun.  Buy some books.

If you decide to go, tell them I sent you!

Creative Ink is at the Delta Marriott Burnaby, BC  March 29-31, 2019.

 

writing-talent v tenacity February 16, 2019

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:50 pm
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When I’m speaking to new writers, whether they be young or old, I spend time discussing the difference between talent and tenacity.

When you start, you may be discouraged because you see others with greater talent than you, but if you have tenacity, your dedication will develop talent, your resilience will keep you practising, your perseverence at pushing on doors will get you opportunities.  The most talented person who just holes up in a burrow will stagnate if they don’t work with what they’ve got.  So if you WANT it, you need to be tenacious, and eventually, your tenacity will develop your talent, and you will achieve your goals.

So much success in life relies on simply not giving up.

Caitriona Balfe, the actor who plays Claire Randall in Outlander, said some similar regarding making it as an actor, in a recent interview for The Irish Times,

a lot of it is just having the f***ing balls and grit to stick around and be persistent in the face of a lot of rejection. But I think that also comes from having a belief that if [there is] something you love to do so much, something that feels that it comes naturally, that in some way it has to be what you’re meant to do.

That’s it.  As Dory puts it, “Just keep swimming.”

 

Review- The Emotion Thesaurus 2nd ed. January 27, 2019

Millions of people want to write books. A few of them will actually start writing. A few of those will finish writing.  If you’re stranded between starting and finishing, sadly aware that you’re missing something, then Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi could be your salvation.

Ackerman and Puglisi have created a series of thesauri that help writers develop powerful, engaging characters and settings.  These non-traditional tools can help a writer find new angles, depth, and vocabulary for what they want to convey.   I have a few of them, both for my personal reference and for my creative writing classes.  I was delighted with the opportunity to see their latest release, in exchange for a fair review.

The latest tool in the arsenal is a re-vamp of the first thesaurus.  The Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition has almost doubled the first edition.  There are articles on how and why to use various emotions, as well as 55 more emotions to examine.

The articles are clear and easy to apply.  I will be using “Emotion and Dialogue” with my creative writing students.

Each emotion entry provides

  • a definition
  • a long list of physical signals and behaviours of the emotion in action
  • internal responses to the emotion
  • mental responses to the emotion
  • acute or long-term impacts of the emotion
  • signs that the emotion is being suppressed
  • where it may escalate or de-escalate
  • power verbs associated with the emotion.

Now, sure, you would probably be able to figure out a lot of these areas if you contemplated long and hard, but more likely you’d settle for the first few things that occured to you, and miss a variety of points that would add depth to your characterization.  While you were thinking, you wouldn’t be writing more on the story.

When you find a sign of an emotion that you’d never considered, and it gives you new directions  at the same time, you’ve struck gold.  It leads to plot points you may not have considered. I will make good use of this book.

The Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition is a valuable tool to help writers save time, develop depth, and learn more about their characters.  Highly recommended for your writers’ toolbox!

Visit their website to explore the entry for schadenfreude as an example of what you can expect.

You can buy The Emotion Thesaurus 2nd ed. at the usual sites.  If you use the link at left, I earn a bit as an Amazon Affiliate.

 

 

workshop notes: Back story by Diana Gabaldon November 30, 2018

The following notes were taken at Surrey International Writers’ Conference, October 21, 2012. (On Oct 23, 2012 I posted a blog that said I’d post notes ‘soon.’  Is six years later soon? lol)  

What to do with the Back story

Diana Gabaldon

SIWC 2012 Friday  

Backstory is what happened to your characters before they got to your front story.  Backstory still exists, the secret story you’re not telling, but you may give the reader a peek, but it’s every bit of a story.  How much are you going to let them see of the back story?.

Story doesn’t have to start when the character begins, it starts where the conflict starts.

How much does the author need to know vs how much the reader needs to know.  Some authors like to know everything, family trees, index cards, details  Myer Briggs

(Aside: Diana is INTJ/F (50 each end) on Myers Briggs)

What situation is your character in.  Remembering back to when she wrote Disney comics… In comic books, first page set up, big square shows main character and conflict.  4 small squares provide details, bottom of the page off on adventure.  Very straight-forward structure.  In novels, first page we need to know char/conflict.  Need to refer to your back story that explains how he does what he does, pick and choose where things are, when they go off on the story adventure.

Motivation: Entire arcs depends on the motivation, get out, get in deeper.  Want to give the story shape.  Back story explains motivation.  It helps to understand the psychology of the character

Diana starts writing and discovers it as she goes along.  The story evolved as the characters did over the years.  Logistically, something happened, use something else if you’ve mentioned previously.  You don’t need to know everything.  You just need to know them by the end! J It’s for you as an author to burnish and polish them to know.  Motherlode of info to mine out as you need it.  Characters detailed resume and psych profile, actual personality and speech is what lets them do the job.

Show vs tell.  Character needs to speak for himself without telling everything.

What does the reader need to know, don’t tell anything until they need to know it.  Gloat over your secret.  (Know the 5W+H)

Who’s central?  Where and what is he doing?  When may/not be important (Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who lived in a forest.  One day…)

Backstory IS the story in a mystery- historical novels, Josephine Hay Daughter of Time Richard 3,  thrillers and murder mysteries, what led to the moment of violence?  The identity novel- adopted.

19th c they spread out the story longer picturesque novel- it’s out of date- no patience these days, you have start with the excitement.  Unless you’re writing in a deliberately antiquated voice.  Follow the action in both front and back story.

Modern version modified authorial intrusion.  Old fashioned, Narrator unobtrusively adds.

(she tells the marijuana with grandma in the hospital story…lol)

When Lord John talks it’s normal, but the modern reader needs a little more info to understand how it was then.  (“of course there would be no rule of order” Author must  sneak up behind the character and whisper over his shoulder)

Reminding people of the Jacquard effect : Same colour, so it’s very subtle, rich look.  In text , weave back into the front.

e.g.Percy blurp from MOBY daily line last week. (Can’t find a reference to Percy Oct 2012 daily lines. Perhaps this from ECHO?) https://www.dianagabaldon.com/books/outlander-series/an-echo-in-the-bone/excerpt-5-an-echo-in-the-bone-sometimes-theyre-really-dead-lord-john-grey/

or tell it to another character, because the character needs the info.  You have to have a reason for telling that char what happened in the past.

Rachel and Ian walking to Valley Forge (Diana doing Scottish accent. HA!)   Ian having been married before/ not asking Rachel to marry him when he thought  Wolf eyes over her knee, Rollo making his allegiance clear…  Sneaking insertion of back story of Ian joining the Mohawk and marrying Emily  “Oh Ian, I do love thee”  (See end of notes for section*)

You have high tension dialogue going on, keep sense of the relationship, following the importance of the book.  The front story is clearly more important than the backstory, but response reveals current info.

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Question time at end of workshop:

Is your throat okay? I just naturally sound hoarse, but it’s better when I have some water

Should we have prologues? Prologue some people skip the prologue, but those are probably the same people who skip to the back of the book, and we don’t talk about those people.

Sometimes the Prologue can be used as hook if first chapter is slow.

For Diana, the prologue is the thematic statement. It reveals the “Voice of the book”.

Do you plan the arc of the conversation?  No

I ask, 😊 “Were the short stories and the Lord John books back story before they became stories on their own?”

Not really, Lord Johns fill in gaps, but I didn’t know there was gap.  I wrote Scottish Prisoner little gap  time. Check the timetable of history, oh. Battle of Quebec, I’ll send him there.

WW2 buff told her a Spitfire couldn’t have travelled over the channel, so she says “I bet I can work out a way that this is true…” and so Wind of All Hallows.  Didn’t know Roger’s parents’ story, but knew they had an interesting story.

How did a story as long as Outlander get accepted?! Outlander 304,000 words shortest of the series.  It was far too long to be accepted at the time, but she was sneaky and hid the length.  One way she got away with it

Deception: Husband was a programmer, back then publishers didn’t use computers. Outlander ms was all in written Courier 10, normal set ms Times Roman 12, looks 25% shorter than it was, played with margins .9”  When finalized with traditional sizes the typesetter nearly had heart attack, but it was too late. 😊

How to research- university libraries, research closest to hand and follow the thread (who said what info about what interesting thing, what resources did he use).  Sometimes you just can’t find, and that’s lucky because then you can just make it up. 😊

How do you start? She starts writing each day with a kernel, something concrete- euphonious, where is the light, what’s happening?  She thinks back and forth around the kernel,  things are floating around in your head, bits start sticking together, after a couple years it makes sense

Someone asks about the duality of having a science PhD and writing: Art and science are both the same thing, the ability to find patterns.  Devise hypothesis- is the pattern real- artist embodies in other way of showing, Scientist test purpose observation.  For a writer the hypothesis is the novel and research is peoples’ response.  Predict what happened in the gap.  Historical serendipity- imagine something that later turns out to be true- if you really embody it well.

How long did it take to write? It took 18 mos to write Outlander.  Scene polished as you go, so later revision basically unnecessary- just tweeks.

*Here is part of the daily line chunk that was read as example earlier to show how background information is given, but it weaves in with current story:

“Perhaps,” Rachel said, and swallowed, pushing him away with one hand flat on his chest, “perhaps thee should finish telling me about not being married, before we go further? Who was thy—thy wife—and what happened to her?”

He let go of her reluctantly, but would not surrender her hand. It felt like a small live thing, warm in his.

“Her name is Wakyo’teyehsnohnsa,” he said, and felt the accustomed inner shift at the speaking of it, as though the line between his Mohawk self and his white self had momentarily disappeared, leaving him awkwardly suspended somewhere in between. “It means Works with her Hands.” He cleared his throat. “I called her Emily. Most of the time.”

Rachel’s small, smooth hand jerked in his.

“Is?” she said, blinking. “Thee said _is_? Thy wife is _alive_?”

“She was a year ago,” he said, and with an effort, didn’t cling to her hand, but let her take it back. She folded her hands in her lap, fixed her eyes on him and swallowed; he saw her throat move.

“All right,” she said, with no more than a faint tremor in her voice. “Tell me about her.”

He took another deep breath, trying to think how to do that, but then abandoned the effort and spoke simply.

“D’ye truly want to know that, Rachel? Or do ye only want to ken whether I loved her—or whether I love her now?”

“Start there,” she said, lifting one brow. “_Does_ thee love her?”

(selection (c) Diana Gabaldon Written in My Own Heart’s Blood)

 

poem-a few words more November 26, 2018

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:53 pm
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A few words more

fingers flicking over keys.

A few words more

a story unwinds

A few words more

before my head explodes

Small successes form

between the creases in my brows.

I will write a few words more,

to force recovery, word by

blurry, painful word.

 

 
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