Tag Archives: Philadelphia Writer’s Conference

Write-On Wednesdays! Self-help author Jerry Waxler reaches out to other writers

Jerry Waxler, M.S.

Jerry Waxler, M.S. author of “Four Elements of Writers,” considers himself a writing-activist, trying to convince people that if they want to write, they ought to overcome obstacles and “just do it.” Jerry answers questions today about how he became interested in helping writers help themselves.

Why are you so passionate about reaching out to writers?
When I was 18, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, a doctor. By the time I was 24, I was living in a garage, preparing to move to Costa Rica to sleep on the beach and eat fruit from the trees. At the last minute, I steered back toward civilization, but it took me another 20 years to put my life back together. Years of being in therapy, and studying self-help books culminated in a graduate program Counseling Psychology at Villanova. After I earned my Master’s degree I wanted to write what I learned so I could help other people achieve their own goals.

When I became serious about writing, I was fortunate to find a club in Doylestown called the Writers Room of Bucks County, where writers congregated and learned from each other. The storefront club for writers turned out to be a powerful incubator for learning about writers and the writing life. The experience made me realize how much writers can offer each other, in support, craft, and also “moral authority,” empowering each other to believe in what they are doing.

Why do you think writers need self-help tools?
Aspiring writers start with the desire to create something entertaining, or beautiful, or informative. That in itself is a lovely goal, but then most of us discover it’s not easy to sit at the desk hour after hour. The blank page is daunting. How do you justify the work when it won’t earn money for years, if ever? Other, easier or more urgent tasks call. In the end, self-management is as important a part of being a writer as the writing itself. And then even after the work is complete, writers face another round of psychological challenges when they have to overcome shyness, and try to present their work to the world.

I realized that many of the strategies that I had been learning to help overcome obstacles in other aspects of life could be applied to writers. For example, writers have to set priorities, establish healthy habits, improve attitude, and steer through a variety of social interactions.

How did you decide to write your self-help book for writers?
Most of the workshops at the Writers Room were directed to improving craft or selling books. There was hardly any training about overcoming psychological obstacles. The directors of the Writers Room in Doylestown, first Foster Winans and then Jonathan Maberry, gave me the opportunity to give workshops to help writers. I developed handouts for those courses, and the handouts grew longer and longer until I finally made them available in a book.

Why is your book only available from your website?
When I finished writing the book, I spent some time trying to find an onramp into the book publishing industry but soon realized that it was going to take a lot of time to find a publisher. I was intrigued by book production and thought I could learn a lot by putting the book together myself. I hired a book designer, cover artist, and editors, and printed the book and sell them directly from my website. That was before the revolution in electronic publishing. A few weeks ago I bought a Kindle, and everywhere I go, I meet people who just bought an e-reader or going to soon. This is all happening so fast, I am only now gearing up to re-publish the book.

One reason I self-published was because it was my first book and I wanted to learn from my mistakes. One mistake I made with that book was the fancy title, Four Elements for Writers. The title refers to  the way I organized the self-help tools into four categories, action, attitude, story-of-self, and audience. Each of the sections corresponds with the alchemical notion that everything is made up of earth, air, fire and water. The title is too abstract and when I republish it, I want to change it to something more straightforward.

So what else do you write?
I blog about memoir reading and writing and treat each post with the same respect as I would if I was writing for a literary journal. Most of the essays on the blog have been through dozens of revisions, including feedback from critique groups. Keeping up with the blog is a crucial part of my goal as a writer, because it lets me publish material at the same time as I’m developing expertise.

In addition, I’m working on two books. One is about the value of reading and writing memoirs, which I propose is one of the great cultural breakthroughs in the new century, allowing people to understand themselves and each other in a more authentic way than any other time in history. And I’m working on my own memoir. This is particularly daunting first, because it is hard turning a life into a story and second, because at the same time as I’m trying to make sense of my life I have had to learn the craft of storytelling.

And at the same time, I continue to connect with writers. In the old days (3 weeks ago) you could be a successful writer by associating with the big publishing houses. That might still be the case for some of us, but the rest of us find our public through the internet. It’s time consuming but I don’t see any way around it. Writers need each other, and these online groups give us a way to connect. I also maintain a yahoo group for memoir writers and I’m on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and volunteer at other groups. I’m always trying to stir up writing community because I enjoy the camaraderie and mutual support.

Why do you push yourself to do all of this?
Like most people who write, I can’t imagine not doing it.

To read more about “Four Elements for Writers” and to order your copy, click here. http://jerrywaxler.com/four_elements.html

To read Jerry’s blog, click here. http://www.memorywritersnetwork.com/blog

Jerry’s Home Page: http://www.jerrywaxler.com

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Filed under Authors, Memoir Writing, Writing Resources

Write On Wednesdays! Linda Wisniewski “Stretches Herself” Through Memoir

Today I am excited to have Linda Wisniewski  talking about her memoir OFF KILTER, writing advice and her new jump into fiction.

Linda Wisniewski

We met up in June at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference where she presented a workshop on writing memoir. More recently we met at Saxby’s coffee shop in Doylestown, PA where I chatted with this lovely lady who also hails – like me –  from the Capital District Region of New York.

Linda writes for the Bucks County Women’s Journal and Bucks County Herald. She is regional representative of the International Womens Writing Guild and a board member of the Story Circle Network. She also teaches workshops on writing memoir. Linda’s memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage , was published in 2008 by Pearlsong Press.

Linda, thanks for sharing today! I was drawn to your book as I could painfully feel your disconnect with your mother.  But it was hopeful that in seeking  a connection with your mother all of your life you finally discovered one with her after her death.

How did you first know you wanted to become involved with writing?
I was a librarian and after my second child I started my own business of providing online market research mainly to pharmaceutical companies. From there I moved to doing freelance features and book reviews.

For everyone who's known the emotional loss and the surprising beauty of being fully who you are...

How did you get interested in writing memoir?
I took writing workshops and wrote personal essays – of which I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  Then a teacher inspired me to turn my one personal essay into a memoir.  I began by writing different pieces of my memoir and then connecting them all together once I saw a flow.

In Off Kilter you talk about stretching yourself. What do you mean by that?
I have stretched myself to write in different genres. I’m writing my first novel now. Very different from memoir! I am also working with children for the first time vs. adults. I’m working with teens to help them discover their stories. This has been a year-long project working with 12-14 year old girls. I’m helping them look at their lives and discover what they want to do with their lives in moving forward from their past.

What was it like growing up in the insulated Polish town of Amsterdam, NY?
Growing up in Amsterdam was a bag of mixed messages. It was a very supportive community and you “knew where you belonged” but when you stepped outside there was prejudice.

Did you learn new things about yourself through writing your memoir?
I learned what’s important to me. I learned what I want to do with my life. Most importantly, I discovered what I wanted to leave behind and want I wanted to carry forward with me.

Do you feel your memoir has a message for others?
Yes, that you can look at your whole life and see the losses are a small part of it and realize the joy that was experienced.

Have you visited Poland?
I visited for the first time in 2010. I toured with an elder hostel which was a fascinating learning experience. Each morning we had a lecture on Poland and then an afternoon tour.

Did any new projects grow out of your Poland trip?
Actually, my new novel is a time travel tale about an ancestor from Poland called “Memoirs of The Queen of Poland.” One of my ancestors from the 20th century time travels to the 21st century because she prayed to the Black Madonna, falls and hits her head and wakes up in the 21st century.

What do you enjoy about teaching most in your memoir classes?
I am intrigued by the stories of others. Their fascinating details, trouble, and loss and how they have overcome tragedies and losses.

Writing Advice:
Write A LOT. Don’t be discouraged if first pieces aren’t published. Don’t take it personally. And just “tell your story.”

How are you involved in the local writing community?
I’ve had half a dozen flash fiction pieces published in various print and online publications. I’m currently in a writing critique in Princeton called Sharpening the Quill that is helping me craft my novel.

Visit Linda at:
www.lindawis.com

Or her blog:
http://lindawisniewski.blogspot.com/

Purchase Linda’s memoir here: Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, & Her Polish Heritage

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Filed under Authors, Memoir Writing

More Hot Tips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Character

Still lots of good stuff to report on from the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference June 3-5!

More notes on character – presented by Gregory Frost, Author of ShadowBridge and many more works.

Grab readers in your first para with the MC’s voice. Create image of MC in our mind from the get-go.

Don’t rely heavy on character description. We need their voice to build character in our mind.

Don’t give reader everything in building character.

Don’t stop the “movie” to explain. Avoid all urges to explain. STOP. Repeat. Again. Avoid all urges to explain!

Present events and let them pass before reader’s eyes so they can judge what is going on.

Characters must show reactions to situations, not reactions by the author.

Don’t lead reader by the hand. Let them find out.

TIP: Write first draft of few pages to explore characters. Start out intuitively to write these first pages of your novel. Stop so far in (20+ pages). If it seems to be working then stop and outline entire book.

Element to characters:
Desire. All that happens in the novel occurs because of desire.
MC wants something bad enough and will do anything to get it. Your MC must yearn for something. Show us early on in the book what your MC wants, yearns for.
Not sure who’s story it is? Pick the person who suffers the most, hurts the most. Make it that person.
Decide who tells the story best.

Exercise to do to create a detailed character:
Choose a container, wallet, jewelry box, laundry basket, any etc. and make a list of what your character(s) keeps in this place. Choose the right items that ring true for each character.  Make it detailed to create a unique an identity from this list. Can you find elements for narrative thread from the list?  (ie. Theater stubs, what happened before/during or after). If so, add them in to book.

NOTE: Get Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction (book). Used as textbook across campuses. Expensive. Try locating on EBay.

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Hot WritingTips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Plot

Kelly Simmons, Author of Standing Still & The Bird House on Plot

Kelly gave us great ideas on how to prepare the plot of our book BEFORE writing it so we don’t get 80 pages in & have to re-write it all.

On Plot: Ride the 7 C’s
Combustion
Coordination
Conflict
Characters
Conclusion
Completion
Commitment
Tip: Combustion and Coordination are most important

Combustion
Most plot problems from beginning. Creating a premise with such interesting characters and high stakes will automatically inspire interesting plot and things to happen with combustion. Start properly vs. revise. Build tension. Create combustion plus conflict as it relates to premise. Look at your plot and see where you can add those what-ifs and extra high stakes.  The engine of your plot is your premise. Then combust it. Then add higher stakes.

Your book’s premise must answer these questions.
1. Where are we?
2. Who is the lead?
3. What do they want?
4. Why should we care?
5. Where are they going?

Example: Jason and Joshua are brothers who attend the same high school and learn of a Columbine-esque plot about to go down the next day. The novel unfolds over 24 hours when they must save their classmates. Now we have possibilities for more conflict. Make better:  Jason and Joshua are twins. They are in love with the same girl. Their Dad is a cop and comes to the scene. Jason doesn’t know Joshua has a gun. Mother committed suicide by gun. Twins have an invalid sister in a wheelchair and both want to save the sister. Com-BUSTED!

Coordination
Action + Voice + Setting + Premise must all be coordinated together for your story to flow. Before writing, experiment with POV to see if a good fit for your premise. Exercise: Write down plot premise. Then write down opening scene in different voices.

Conflict
Stuck in the middle? Add some conflict. This can get you out of that sagging middle we all dread. Change locale, add excuse for an argument, add a surprising situation. Kelly echoed Gregory Frost in emphasizing here the 3Ds of writing conflict: Desire + Danger = Drama.

Characters
Look at your characters voice. Strip out all prose/exposition and just look at their dialogue to see the beat of their voice. Flow their beat throughout the book. Step outside of your outline to listen to your characters as they grow through your book as they may change from your outline. Ie. Would this character do this or that? Is that true to them and their voice? Maybe it was in the beginning but not now.

Give the reader a character they enjoy. A character you sympathize with, a character who longs for something and then take away what they most want. Give the reader a character to enjoy – but not necessarily like.

Conclusion
Wrap up your novel in a satisfying way that serves the premise and reader anticipation. Tie up loose ends.

Completion
Know when to end. Is your book too long? Then look at where there is overwriting. End sooner if need be. Too many plot points can be too much – know when plot is done.
Tip: Where should novel start? Write the synopsis and elevator pitch first to find out.
Tip: To make your writing stronger brainstorm more and (over)write less.

Commitment
What quadrant of writer are you in? Dreamer * Outliner * Non-Outliner * Doer.  Find a good combo of two. Ie. Combo of being a non-outliner and dreamer might need more of the “doer” in them to get the writing done. For me, I am an outliner and a doer but I need more of the dreamer in me to sit and “think outside the box” and be creative.

Different plots = Different Styles Some plots demand a particular type of writing. Ie. Thriller/suspense should have action first, scare readers early on, fast pace, punchy dialogue. Exercise to do: Write opening paragraph or page in different voices. 1st person, 3rd person, 3rd person limited, Omniscient, even 2nd person (very difficult! Hard to write)

Now plot on!

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Hot WritingTips from the Philly Writer’s Conf: On Character

Back from the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference June 3-5. Lots of good stuff to report on! I will post hot tips and techniques over the next week on what I learned during this past weekend from a round of excellent presenters.

On Character – presented by Gregory Frost, Author of ShadowBridge and many more works.“You paid for this pain” – quote on his critiquing our work.
Darn right.

All good fiction is 3D
Desire + Danger = Drama
The danger part is the impediment – add it. Get your MC out of their comfort zone.

Dramatize it, don’t tell it
Show drama through dialogue and action. Have the characters reveal things as they go along, don’t just tell us.
Exercise: Imagine scene. A married couple is fighting. One wants to divorce, one doesn’t. At the end of dialogue one has convinced the other of their argument. Write 1 page of dialogue only for this scene. Now write 1 page of exposition only of this scene. Find a way to combine them.

Identify the gap in characters
Make characters rich in symbolic self. People act on the basis of how they see themselves and who they think they are. Ie. Priest lives one life, then is a pedophile behind public life. Ie. A politician rails against homosexuals, he is one himself. Find the gap between character’s actions and how he sees himself. Symbolic self is very powerful and drives character to do what they do.

Cool character names
Names evoke a visual. Names matter. They can be found walking through cemeteries. Names of long ago can be unique and not mainstream now.

Character Chart
Create a character chart that list in detail their physiological, sociological and psychological traits. In doing this your character will come alive to you and can be referred back to as you write. They may reveal new things about themselves.

Characters have a life before your book
This is true for your multiplex characters not simplex characters (nameless/faceless characters such as delivery person, etc). Get to know them by interviewing your multiplex character asking 20 questions or free write about who they are.

Create a triangle of characters
Triangle keeps characters from agreeing with one another and adds conflict. Don’t forget siblings – they make great secondary characters.

Check filtering words
When revising, eliminate words like ‘realized’, ‘noticed’, etc. Keep reader in the story through eyes of the character. Ie. Change “Ben noticed the fire burned fierce in the wind” to “The fire burned fierce.”

Get to action from the start
Don’t start your novel with the character sitting around alone in exposition. Need action! If he is sitting around, then skip and start at Chapter 2 or 3 –  wherever the action finally starts. Get right to it. Ie. Read Accidental Tourist intro scene.

No backstory in the beginning
Don’t add in all the backstory in the first scene. Wind it in later. Don’t inform the reader of all that is going on, the characters know. And they don’t need to tell each other what they already know. Character development is delivered as you go along through the book. Tip: Find a way to start at near the end of your story and then go back.

Check out: Lajos Egri’s book The Art of Dramatic Writing.

Watch for more hot tips and advice over the next week! Now to working on my MS from this workshop. I like pain. Pain is good.

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Filed under Characters, Writing Conferences, Writing Resources