Write or Wrong

Last year just before I left for the 2011 Writer’s Institute at UW-Madison I posed the question “Why do writers write?” and shared my thoughts on the matter:

I don’t think writer’s write. I think they’re written through. Somewhere along the way, they gave themselves over to being a vessel through which words flow. A writer can’t not writethey’re compelled to write. Even if it’s only for themselves.

The creative experience of writing unleashes ideas, emotions, and thoughts. This unleashing is euphoric—a state that becomes addictivea way of being in the world that opens the door to endless possibility.

In an eloquent presentation of words and photographs, Winsomebella recently shared why she writes in a post titled, “If You Want To Know Why.”

In my perspective, the only time that writing is wrong is when you don’t…write; when you hold back because of fear or discouragement.

I admire the tenacity of author Darcie Chan, who after receiving over 100 rejection letters from various literary agents decided to self-publish her book, “The Mill River Recluse.” To date, it has sold more than 400,000 copieslanding squarely on the best-seller lists!

As I was contemplating this post, my friend Leanne Dyck posted the following letter (below the photograph) to her 12-year-old self on her blog, The Sweater Curse—cannily named after her most recent book published by Decadent Publishing:

Leanne Dyck age 12

Dear younger Leanne,

You know those stories that you’re working on. Well, you might think that you can just throw them out—unfinished. You may think that because they belong to you, you can do whatever you want with them. Well, you’re wrong. You can’t. You can’t because they belong to me—older Leanne—not you. So, instead of tossing them away, you better file them away for safekeeping. You better or else…

Oh, yeah, and another thing. You might think that by writing all those stories you’re just having fun. WRONG! You’re doing important work. However, you’re only doing half the job. You also need to get someone who can spell and knows grammar to edit them. Ask Mom she’ll help you. Then you need to submit them to literary journals or short stories contests. 

Oh, yeah, and don’t just do it once and think you’re done. Don’t just say, “Oh, well, I submitted it. I didn’t win. I don’t have to do that again.” Don’t think, I tried, failed and now I’m done. The only way you failed is by being done. Simply by continuing to submit your stories, you’re proving that you are a winner. If you don’t continue working until the job is done, well then you’ll leave all that work for me. And trust me, I won’t be pleased.

Oh, yeah, and the most important thing. You may not think you’re smart, but I do. I know how talented you are. And you’re doing a grave disservice by not sharing your talent. So do it. Do it now!



If you wrote a letter to your 12-year-old self, what would you say?

© TuesdaysWithLaurie.com

Write On! (part 2)

The 22nd Annual Writers' Institute at UW-Madison by Laurie Buchanan

The 22nd Annual Writers' Institute at UW-Madison by Laurie Buchanan

Continued from Write On! (part 1)

The first three quotes are from Doug Stevenson, an expert in creativity and innovation process. He’s a degreed and accomplished facilitator and a prolific source of creative ideas of his own. He’s often used as a “trained brain” or “creative catalyst” in ideation groups, particularly for new product development, brand strategy, experiential marketing, or organizational change. He’s trained in emotional intelligence, leadership, and the use of humor in business and nonprofit settings. He has a background as a comedy writer and improvisational performer. He’s also an accomplished business writer.

“We learn by playing, it informs us as humans.”

“Writer’s block? Take an Improv class for fluency. It’ll help you to become open and fluid in your thinking.”

“Editing is like sculpting—it’s what you take away that matters!”

Christopher Mohar teaches fiction, poetry, and composition at UW-Madison. He’s the recipient of a Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and he holds an MFA from the University of Washington, where his creative manuscript received the David Guterson Fiction Thesis Prize. He said:

“You are a writer if you put words on a page.”

Christopher also shared ten things every novel needs to be complete:

An original premise—don’t retell someone else’s story.
A sympathetic protagonist—rooting interest, vulnerability, redeemability, heroic qualities.
A catchy opening—create a feeing that we’re falling into the story; start with a body floating in the lake.
A compelling story question—the central conflict/premise of your book, formulated as the question that you’d like your readers to ask themselves as they read (and a plot that keeps the momentum going).
A strong voice (see previous post—Write On! Part 1).
High stakes—whatever stands to be gained/lost if the hero/heroine’s efforts succeed/fail.
Polished dialogue—difficult to write, but dialogue can make the distinction between a professional and an amateur.
Balanced scenes—(show, don’t tell; favor understatement, not overstatement; important dramatic moments should always happen in scene, never in summary; summary is best used as “mortar” between the “bricks” of scenes; details are most powerful when they’re concrete, specific, and significant; good scenes escalate tension internally/externally).
A sense of place (a great setting is woven into the very fabric of the novel).
A strong ending (don’t betray your reader’s trust—nothing kills a good book like a bad ending. A strong ending keeps me thinking about the book after I’ve closed it).

Ted Weinstein is an AAR-member literary agent who represents a broad range of non-fiction for adults. His clients include a wide range of journalists, scholars, and other talented authors. At this year’s Writer’s Institute he facilitated the “Book Proposal Boot Camp” where he said the 3 trends in non-fiction are:

Narrative—history, biography, journalism, memoir (character, story: imagine the movie)
Self-Help—practical, pursuit of happiness, news you can use
Concept history (i.e., a noun, preferable one that changed the world)—Cod, Salt, Secrets of Saffron, Uncommon Grounds, A Mind of Its Own…

He talked about:

Platform—how high above everybody else do you stand in your area of expertise?
Synergy—creating lots of different things that feed each other (i.e., merchandise, workbooks)

From idea to book tour—what makes it successful? The tirelessness of the author—tenacity!

All publishing is self-publishing. In other words, assume your publisher will do nothing for you and then be pleasantly surprised if they do.”

“The less you need them [publisher] the more they want you.”

“A book proposal is really a business plan. You’re asking them for money so you need to provide them with a business plan.”

“A literary agent is a knowledgeable advocate.”

This year’s Writers’ Institute was phenomenal. Mark your calendar now for next year’s event. The dates are April 12-15, 2012. I look forward to seeing you there! This is Paden Plume (my alter ego) signing off for another year.

Paden Plume (Laurie's alter ego)

Paden Plume (Laurie's alter ego)

 Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
               – Laurie Buchanan


© 2011 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved

Write On! (part 1)

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After a nice lazy drive through farmland dotted with barns and silos, we arrived in Madison, Wisconsin last Thursday afternoon. Len helped me settled into my room at the Lowell Center (in the 1960’s it was a private women’s dormitory), and made sure that I could log into the Internet with their wireless service—perfect!

Once situated, we walked State Street, window shopping and looking for lunch. I’m fairly confident that every ethnicity of food on the globe is represented in the hustle-and-bustle of this college-town street. We strolled past the capitol building and had a delicious lunch at The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company.

After our feast, we waddled back to check out the Pyle Center where the annual Writers’ Institute is held. As Len headed back to Crystal Lake, I geared up for the first event: “Pitching Practice” at 5:30pm. Pitching is a one-on-one, 8-minute opportunity with a literary agent to sell them on your manuscript.

Between this post and the next (on Thursday), you’ll read some of the practical things I learned at the 22nd Annual Writers’ Institute at UW-Madison. Please note, this is just from the presenters that I saw—there were many more:

“Be yourself. Just tell your story.”
Laurie Scheer, is the Writers’ Institute director. She’s also the author of Creative Careers in Hollywood. Her DVD, How to Pitch and Sell Your Screenplay, is a perennial bestseller.

“People pay money to read about trouble and how to get out of it.”
Christine DeSmet teaches fiction and screenwriting for UW-Madison Continuing Studies. She’s an award-winning novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter who has optioned to New Line Cinema and others. She’s also written stage plays. At UW-Madison Continuing Studies, Christine also mentors and critiques writers throughout the year—myself included—helping them polish their material for agents and publication.

“Voice is the manner in which you choose to tell your story. It has a particular cadence and tone. Like a thumbprint, most of us have a unique signature to our own voice. It’s what makes you unique as a writer.”
Josie Brown is the author of four fiction and one non-fiction book. Her next novel will be released in September of this year.

Josie shared, the five elements of “voice” are:
Tone – the tone you set with characters, dialog, and how you describe a scene
Phrasing – wordy vs. spare, and choosing the “right” words
Dialogue – how you put words in your character’s mouths
Where you START your scene remember, “I am camera.” Paint images of what the camera sees, don’t write explanations.
Point of View – Who is seeing, feeling, talking? The main character or supporting character?

“If you’re going to write, don’t be afraid to upset your readers (even your mother).”

“Do the Dreaded thing first! Just get it over with and move on.”
Kelly James-Enger has authored, co-authored, and ghostwritten twelve books. As a freelance journalist, she’s published more than 700 articles in over fifty national magazines.

“Whether you Indie publish (independent, self-publish), or legacy publish (traditional publishing) a published book is just the beginning. Now the real work begins.”
Judy Molland is an award-winning teacher and writer. She’s the contributing education editor for Dominion Parenting Media—the largest syndicate of parenting magazines in the U.S.

Paul S. Levine is an attorney and a literary agent. In the event I get his statements wrong, I’m not going to print his wonderful advice here. Suffice it to say that he provided a tremendous amount of terrific information on advances, royalties, and the actual contract (the exact wording of what should and should not be in it). He also talked about subsidiary rights—current and future—and film, audio, and foreign rights.

By this time my hand was aching from taking so many notes. My handwriting looks like a drunk chicken wrote it, but as you can see in the last photograph of the slideshow, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer—one who knows publishing—because “Lawyers get paid to anticipate the best and worst that can happen now and in perpetuity—forever!”

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite quotes from Natalie Goldberg’s bestselling book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within:

“Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.”

Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
               – Laurie Buchanan


© 2011 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved