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Michelle's Musings

Make it Happen

In my last post (April 15), I suggested that, as writers, we might encourage others to take up the craft during this time of social distancing. We all know someone who's been "dying" to write a book about something. I think those sentiments are earnest for the most part but hampered, in many cases, by the inability to get past go. I suggested a good start would be to read about the craft of writing.


Of course, that recommendation applies to other avenues of creation. And there are plenty of online resources out there for the novice in just about any subject one can imagine. How about learning the basics of watercolor painting, or going after that degree you've been planning to pursue or complete? Personally, I've been experimenting with low-calorie, low-carb baking, and I've referred to online video instruction to learn how to "twist" my hair into a BIG curly look that is all the rage these days.


More recently, I participated in two Zoom video conferences, the first led by a guest speaker organized by one of my writers organizations. The other was a reading session with six authors arranged by my alma mater's alumnae association. I finally understand how folks have virtual cocktail parties, concerts, and simultaneous movie screenings. The process was fun and efficient.


We are an innovative society. We can pretty much accomplish anything if we put our minds to it. If you write regularly but are looking for a stimulating diversion, why not make the most of your stay-at-home mandate by exploring what it is you've "always wanted to do" (besides write)? No better time than the current one to make it happen!

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Pandemic Pause

The Covid-19 pandemic is on everyone's mind. With most of the nation subject to stay-at-home guidelines, I feel fortunate to have my writing to keep me occupied. Without it, I would go stir-crazy, as I'm sure is the case for many.


We've all heard would-be writers lament the fact that they have a book idea they've been wanting to get down on paper but lack the time to do so. Well, this is a prime opportunity to replace texting and liking with reading and writing. Make no mistake, social media can prove invaluable during these times of shuttering ourselves in domestic confinement. But why not consider ditching the smart phone for a bit and doing something creative, whether it's painting or writing or learning to play an instrument? Why not suggest to those would-be writers that they read books about the craft of writing as a start?


There's an added bonus to pursuing that longstanding passion during this difficult period: Time spent enriching the mind means less time spent standing in front of the fridge!


Hang in there, and happy creating!

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Panster vs. Planner

As a fiction writer, I've never been a fan of outlines. It seems to me that you have to know your story before you outline it, so why not just write it to begin with?


While I understand the merits of planning, once I have a story concept in my head, I tend to want to sit down and plug away, sometimes not even knowing how the story will end. I'll fill in the blanks, if any, during subsequent revisions.


I guess I'm one of those "by the seat of her pants" writers. Which brings me to this term, panster (vs. planner or plotter), that I've been hearing more oftenApparently, it's been around for some time now, from back in the day when folks preached that all books should begin with an outline.


Panster is shorthand for someone who does what I describe above--a writer who, in essence, lets the story write itself. A panster has an idea for a story and a few characters in mind, but she may not have the plot points contrived at first sitting. A planner, on the other hand, methodically maps out or outlines plot points in advance.


Therein lies the crux of the issue.


The common pro for outlining is that it helps structure plot lines. I would think that being a planner might stifle the flow of creative juices with all that organizing of ideas into charts or columns or on Post-it Notes destined for a storyboard. Since one of the tenets of crafting a novel is to disregard the compulsion to self-edit (a struggle in itself) during the brainstorm of that initial draft, does outlining help or hurt that process?


In researching this topic, I found just as many blogs and articles for, against, and ambivalent about panster writing. No matter which approach I contemplate, it can be a bit daunting just trying to get a project started--let alone figure out which method to use. Either has its merits.


So, what say you? Do you go with the outline, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Are you a panster or planner, or a little bit of both?

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Breaking Away from the Critique Group

As a writer, I find the process of critiquing one's work similar to that of an artist who steps away from his canvas and revisits it later with "fresh eyes." Only, in the case of writing, the fresh eyes often belong to someone other than the artist. That's not to say that the author shouldn't critique her own work. I just find it difficult to do so without setting it aside for at least a week or two. Even then, I don't trust myself to recognize all the deficiencies. Having a total stranger (in the form of a fellow writer) review my work can provide invaluable feedback about problems I didn't even know existed.


What I've wrestled with, though, is sorting through which critical feedback is useful and which is not. For example, I follwed a suggestion to change my novel's point of view and found that doing so helped me resolve an issue I'd been struggling with. I was also told that my prologue did not fit, so I removed it. Later, in a different critique group, the suggestion was made to add a prologue.


I'm more of a "do as you're told" person, but I've come to understand that there's a delicate dance to be performed in creating a piece of fiction. Studying the craft of novel writing is invaluable. On the other hand, the creative process must be my own.


Recently, I've had other authors tell me that I may want to break away from critique groups as they can stifle the writing process. I'm interested in learning how others grapple with incorporating critical feedback into their writing.


How much does one "play by the rules," and when does one "throw caution to the wind?" Read More 

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