Tag Archives: writer unboxed

How do I love thee? For writers here are ten tips on process to show we love our work of writing

In March Brunonia Barry posted these tips on writers unboxed.com. The precise URL for this wonderful website appears below:

(You) »

10 Tips about Process

to do list

So recently, when guest speaking at a college creative writing class, I was asked for ten writing tips I’d like to pass along to students. My first impulse was to run screaming from the building, but, when I thought more about it, I realized that the one sure thing I’ve gained in knowledge is an understanding of my own writing process, something I didn’t have a clue about while working on my first two novels.

Today, I thought I’d pass those tips along. I’m not suggesting you adopt them, just telling you what works for me.  After you read, I hope you’ll share some tips of your own.

1. Ask the question, but don’t necessarily answer it: “What if?” is almost always the question that inspires my stories. As I work, I usually find that this initial, situational question leads to a deeper, more philosophical one, which becomes the theme of the novel. I don’t try to answer that deeper question. I don’t presume that I could. I hate to see the ego of the writer in a story, and I’m not fond of stories that tie things up too neatly.  Certainly plot must be resolved and characters must arc, but I believe that writing and reading are collaborative, and I leave the larger question for my readers to answer for themselves.

2. Write a mess of a first draft and never show it to anyone:  The initial pages I write are almost always discarded, but somewhere among them, I discover the beginning of my story. The first draft is where I begin to hear the voice of the main character and allow myself to follow her for a while, never knowing where she might lead. If I thought I had to show those pages to anyone, I’d probably stop writing. I think first drafts should be messy, like finger painting. When I finally finish the book, I burn them.

3. Write detailed biographies for every character: For me, character creates story, so I always do this first. If I get stuck, I generally find the answer by going back to the biography. As I write each character’s backstory, I sometimes try to become that character, as an actor might do to prepare for a role, venturing out and behaving as the character would. Warning: This kind of behavior can cause a number of problems, depending on who your character is and where you live, so, if you try it, be careful. In my town (Salem, MA), just about anything goes. People barely notice, or, if they do, they’re not mentioning it to me.

4. Listen to the Characters: What does each character want? What’s keeping her from getting it? If I put the right characters in a situation and understand what motivates them, the plot seems to develop naturally. If I’m trying to control the outcome instead of listening, the story always falls flat.

5. Treat place as Character: I create biographies for location, asking and answering the same questions I would ask my human characters.

6. Is the action of the book in the right order?  This is a weak point for me. Sometimes I find myself writing very fast, following an idea in order to capture it. When I look back, the progression of paragraphs almost always needs reordering. Or, I might have a character skipping steps by taking an action early on that shouldn’t happen until later in the story, a sure way to leave the character with no options going forward.

7. Study psychology: I always say that if I hadn’t been a writer, I would have wanted to be a psychologist.A great deal of my leisure reading is about human psychology. For me, this has been an invaluable tool for character development.

8. Outline, but not too early. Then follow the outline:  I don’t outline until I’m well into the first draft and certain I know my characters well enough to understand their motivations. If I outline too early, I become blocked.

9. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite: I’m never happier than when I’m revising. There may be bits of good writing that come earlier, even ones that inspire the story in the first place, but the poetry, if there is any, comes at this stage for me. There is something about having the initial story down on paper and knowing that it holds together that frees up my creativity.

10. Read aloud: I do this at least three times with different groups of trusted readers. First: to see if the story works. Does it flow? Do the characters ring true? The second time I read for rhythm: Is the dialogue of each character unique? Does the rhythm vary? The third time I read for continuity: Have the changes I’ve made necessitated other changes that I’ve neglected? This is something I have to watch carefully.  I once changed a character’s birthday, which resulted in a pregnancy that lasted 15 months. Hopefully, this third reading is where I catch and correct that very embarrassing kind of error.

That’s what works for me (Brunonia). What about your process? Do you have any tips to share?http://writerunboxed.com/2014/03/31/10-tips-about-process/        Brunonia is asking that , but I would hope you would share your tips with my readers in the comments section here as well.

Sharing about Writing–thought provoking work

First, let me share that I love the Writer Unboxed and encourage you to sign up. As soon as I saw this essay by Vaughn Roycroft I knew I had to ask him for permission to share on my blog, so that performers would see it as well. He graciously said yes,

Details are important

working daily, bit by bit–these are two of my take-aways from his essay and the more often I read it, the more I find to think about in relation to both writing and performing.

How am I shaping my bungalow—the inner space of my story or performance?

Consider following writer unboxed and do read this post by Roycroft.




The Arts and Crafts of Writing Fiction

Posted: 04 Apr 2014 04:00 AM PDT

Flickr Creative Commons: Kyle Jerichow

It’s A Bungalow? Are you familiar with the Arts and Crafts Movement? For many “Arts and Crafts” refers to a reproduction Morris chair in their den. For others it might evoke Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style or an antique Stickley dining set. Each of these is born of the A&C movement, but none of them alone does much to define it.

I was as unfamiliar as anyone until we bought our first house. We didn’t know anything about the style, but we liked that it was affordable, well-built and cozy. Turns out it was a craftsman bungalow. Being a history buff, I fell in love with the house and the style. I’ve since come to realize that my A&C ardency has affected my entire writing journey. Perhaps you too are an Arts and Crafts writer and didn’t even know it.

The Meaning Behind the Movement: When I first heard the phrase: “Arts & Crafts,” I thought of hand-knit oven-mitts at a yard sale. Then I came to know it as an architectural style. As it turns out, the A&C movement, born in 19th Century England, did not set out to promote a particular style but rather advocated reform and a critique of industrialization.

Early A&C proponents rejected the ornateness of the Victorian era. A&C pioneer John Ruskin (1819-1900) advocated honest and exposed craftsmanship in architecture. Ruskin’s writings influenced designers like William Morris (1834-1896), who strove to unite all the arts within the construction and decoration of the home, emphasizing nature and simplicity to make it a refuge of beauty and enlightenment. Morris’s influence reached America via popular turn of the century periodicals such as House Beautiful and Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman.

The Artistic Craftsman:

“Art is not a thing; it is a way.” ~Elbert Hubbard

Craft is about function, measuring success by usefulness. Art’s value is measured outside of utility, and encompasses beauty and emotional impact. If a craft, produced for its utility, can be made to be beautiful or to evoke an emotion without harming its usefulness, hasn’t it achieved artistic value? If so, it follows that there is inherent value in combining arts and crafts.

Proponents of the A&C movement espoused beauty in nature and simplicity of form; craftsmanship through skills gained by practice and dedication. As a woodworker, I feel the most beautiful and functional items I’ve produced are the simplest and most natural. Through woodworking I’ve seen that skills are gained though doing the work. There are no shortcuts.

It’s wise to study and to plan your projects, but a craftsman’s skill is gained through practice. And artistic results are produced by skilled craftsmen. (Is this starting to resemble writing yet? Just checking.)

The Arts & Crafts Writer:

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” ~ Steven Pressfield

The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne. ~Geoffrey Chaucer

As I look back on my nine-plus years of writing fiction, I can clearly recall many instances in which I wanted to consider a project “done.” But, without exception, I’ve been able to take that same work to another level. I’m not saying this tells me that no project is ever done. What it does demonstrate is that we, as writers, should never consider ourselves done evolving and growing.

A true craftsman knows he will only ever attain the artistic through stretching his skills and then practicing again. The next project’s growth is built upon the foundation of the last project’s practiced skill-set.

A true craftsman knows he will only ever attain the artistic through stretching his skills and then practicing again. The next project’s growth is built upon the foundation of the last project’s practiced skill-set.

Arts & Crafts Fiction:

“If there were a manifesto for 21st century fiction writers, I hope it would go like this: Down with high-flown literature! Cast off genre servitude! The revolution is founded in authorial liberty. It regards story and art as equals.” ~ Donald Maass

You might not expect a guy who has focused on genre work (I write epic historical fantasy) to be talking about simplicity or striving to be artistic. Genre is about storytelling and obligatory tropes, right? There may be an element of truth there but, for example, I’ve found that the micro-element of complex world-building does not preclude the beauty of macro-simplicity. As I practice and strive, I often find myself stripping away the superfluous, and honing on character goals and motivations to deepen conflicts. And I find the result makes for simpler, more effective storytelling. I also believe the simplest and most natural way to emotional impact is through effective story. Thus, my aspiration for the artistic through dedication to craftsmanship.

The Arts and Crafts writer should strive for ever-improving utility of function (storytelling), which in turn sets them on a course toward beauty through simplicity of form, and impact through that which is natural and human (art).

The Arts & Crafts Writing Career:

“Get happiness out of your work or you may never know what happiness is.” ~Elbert Hubbard

I get frustrated sometimes. And impatient. Some days I just want to be “done.” I am a writer, striving to be an artist. But sometimes I just want to be: Vaughn Roycroft, Writer—with a capital W. With books on the shelf, not still in a file labeled: work-in-progress. It’s days like these that I need to remind myself of my Arts & Crafts philosophy. And that philosophy tells me that I am the work-in-progress, not the file.

When I’m feeling down about a project or the state of my so-called career, the best things I can do are to take a long walk in nature, get back to the my roots as a human being, and then get back to work. If ideas won’t flow onto the page, I go to work in the wood-shop. I’ve found that nothing stimulates the flow of ideas like working with my hands. Even raking the yard is better than moping about the progress of my writing.

I remind myself that even after my first book is published, I must then remember that a craftsman continues to grow and evolve. After my fourth book is published, I will need to stretch my skills and practice again in order to find my way to a worthy fifth.

The Arts & Crafts Lifestyle:

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” ~William Morris

The Arts & Crafts writer does not seek fame or a lavish lifestyle. We find our art though dedication and through diverse life experience. We find satisfaction in the work itself. We know that only through practice can we achieve the utility we seek in order to stride ever closer to the artistic. We surround ourselves with beauty, and for us beauty is found in simplicity and nature.

In the best sense of the word, we are eternal students. Even when we are teachers, we are still students. WU is a perfect example of the fact that we all have so much to learn from one another—and always will. We writers are students of nature—human and otherwise. We are students of life.

So, what about you? Ever lived in a bungalow? Did you know it when you moved in? Are you an Arts & Crafts writer? Or are you already famous and living a lavish lifestyle? (If so, maybe don’t tell me—envy is not conducive to the Arts & Crafts lifestyle.)


About Vaughn Roycroft

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.