Forum Friday: Excitement and Despair

In a video a friend recently shared with me titled How To Be Creative, author Julie Burstein says “Creativity is a cycle of excitement and despair.” Certainly my own writing experience has been something of a roller coaster, but that might have more to do with a certain feeling of zipping and plunging inexpertly from one task to the next than having distinct ups and downs.

And yet, midway into my second novel and realizing how much work my first one still needs, I think I am beginning to appreciate Ms. Burstein’s wisdom.

Relative to the named cycle, what is your writing experience like? Do you relate? If so, how do you channel your despair back into positive creative energy?

Here’s the full clip, if you’re interested in watching:

Forum Friday: Outlier Books

Have you ever read a book that did something totally different? I am thinking in terms of format specifically, but answers do not have to be limited to that context.

A few outlier books that come to mind:

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This book is a nesting doll of six narratives, following six characters (who are all, as an added layer, interconnected/reincarnations of one another). The really cool thing about Cloud Atlas is that it does not just go in chronological order (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6); it first goes 1-6 and then goes backward: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I have NEVER read anything like it. EVER.
  2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Composed entirely of letters. Guernsey Literary is certainly not the only book to do this, but it is still an unusual format worthy of note and accolades.
  3. Crank by Ellen Hopkins. Crank is one of several books by Hopkins whose narrative is told exclusively through poems. Again, there are probably other books that do this, too, but the format is something to marvel at.

What unusual novel formats have you encountered? Any books specifically that you would recommend?

Forum Friday: Do you have a literary bucket list?

If so, what’s on it? Writing fan letters to your favorite authors (or perhaps meeting them)? Visiting places from your favorite books, like the House on the Rock in American Gods (or the Harry Potter world in Universal Studios)? Going on a literary pilgrimage, or filling a library of your own with signed first editions?

A literary bucket list is something I’ve been meaning to sit down and commit to paper for a while now. Or at least brainstorm over. I think it’s always good to have dreams, and as a writer it could be especially nice to round out some of the Years Away, Distant Mountain goals like publication and viable authorhood with things you can cross off in a day. I’ll be interested to see what’s on other people’s lists! 🙂

Forum Friday: What was the first part of your WIP that came to you?

It’s amazing to me how many places stories can spring from and what wild directions they can grow in. Every story begins as a single idea, whether in a scene, an image, a character, a name, a superpower, a concept, a line, a title, a prompt, etc.

Drawing from my own experience, the starting point seems different for just about every work. Where one is inspired by a dream, another unfolds entirely from the title. A short story I wrote for fun began with a prompt (internet matchmaking) and the first line that came to me: “Peter McBunterbeans was always making bets, and almost always losing them.”

How about you? What was the very first part of your work in progress that came to you?

Forum Friday: Conferences, Expos, and Book Fairs, Oh My!

When the stairs say this, you’re probably hanging out with the right people.

I recently signed up to volunteer at the book fair portion of a local writing festival and I am SO excited about it! Admittedly, of course, I haven’t been to anything that resembles a ‘Book Fair’ since grade school, when they used to send us home with those little flyers…

So what I am really curious about today are other people’s experiences at them. Not just book fairs, but conferences, expos, and any other writing- and reading-related shenanigans. Er– events.

Have you ever been to a writing conference? How about a book fair?

Tell us about it!

What was the event like? What was your favorite part? Drawing on your sage experience, is there any advice you would give to a first-time conference-goer or anything that you would have done differently (i.e., worn more comfortable shoes, brought business cards, etc.)?

Forum Friday: What have you given up for writing?

Writing is a needy mistress. Whether it’s trading a favorite show to make time for reading or staying in on a Friday night to work on the next chapter, most of us have made sacrifices to placate the demands of the muse.


I myself have come to see writing as a certain balancing act, and it is one whose scales I tinker with often. I have done various self-imposed challenges—reading a short story every day for a month and reflecting on it, replacing any television with reading until XYZ book was finished, and who could forget the social-life-eradicating Nanowrimo—and each time come away from the challenge with certain gains, but not without missing something in return.

What sacrifices have you made for your writing? Which have you found to be most (and conversely, least) effective?

Forum Friday: Book vs. Film

Surely we have all watched a movie adapted from a book we enjoyed and either thought to ourselves, “Wow. They did that really well,” or “WHAT?!??”

Deviations from the original are only to be expected I think, but certainly some are more successful than others. I would like to open today’s forum to talk about film adaptations of books that have struck you– either for their loyalty or disloyalty to the book, the successes (or shortcomings) of changes made. Let us know what you liked and what you didn’t about the changes, cuts, or embellishments implemented in film, or what you respected/could appreciate as a storyteller even if they meant straying from the book.

I myself recently read Logan’s Run, and just watched the 70s film adaptation the other day. The degree of difference between the two was so steep that it altered the direction of the story and resulted in an ending entirely different from the one authors William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson originally envisioned. In fact, I have enough to say about book vs. movie on this one that I will be writing a separate post on it.

For now, tell us your take! …And enjoy some of the most popular results Google turned up for “book vs. movie”:

The Hunger Games

The Great Gatsby

The Lightning Thief

Never Let Me Go


Forum Friday: Who do you write for?

I don’t just mean target audience (though feel free to include that in your answer); I mean, when you pick up a pen or open Word and start typing your chapter or story, is there a specific person you’re writing to?

Many writers talk about writing for someone specifically within their target audience. Stephen King writes with his wife in mind (see my post on 11/22/63, and how he tests his work by seeing if she laughs when she reads his manuscript); Marianne Curley (Guardians of Time trilogy) said she writes for her kids, and that they are her foremost critics; many writers cite a close friend or significant other, who may or may not be within their target demographic.

But what about you?

Forum Friday: Are you part of a writing group?

On Tuesday I met with a newly-formed writing group, and it got me thinking: there is a JUNGLE of diversity out there when it comes to writerly union and critique.

So I thought I would ask the online community: Do you participate in a writing group? If so, tell us about it. What is the format like? Do you meet in person? How often? What materials, if any, do you exchange? What is expected of you? What do you like most about it?

As for me, this group I recently met with, unlike any group/class/workshop I had ever participated in before, was all oral. Nobody read anybody’s work beforehand; the writers simply assembled, and everybody who wanted feedback on something was given fifteen minutes to read their work aloud and accept and discuss verbal feedback. That was also different from what I’d experienced before; in class settings we always had a ‘gag rule’ where the author wasn’t allowed to comment on his or her work during critique. With this format we were able to ask questions of the listeners.

I think there are pros and cons to any given format, but what here’s what I like best about this one: anyone can bring something in and test-pilot before an impartial panel!

Forum Friday: How Do You Outline?

Unless you are a prodigy, a diehard pantser, or some combination thereof, an outline is an absolutely essential blueprint for writing a novel. An outline allows us to chart events, organize them, rearrange, cut, add, develop characters and motivations along the way. It’s kind of a like a scale model of an elaborate mansion or theme park: you are visualizing the full, complex picture before you start building, and by planning it all out first you are saving yourself valuable time and reconstruction efforts!

But how to go about doing it?

Here are just a few of the possible methods out there:

  1. Flowchart
  2. Word Document
  3. Sticky Notes
  4. Note Cards (see haphazard starter attempt top right)
  5. The All-Encompassing Super Spreadsheet of DOOM (aka JK Rowling Style)

Sureasmel of Ink Out Loud mentioned Final Draft, a program that brands itself as screenwriting software, but can be very useful for novel outlining, too. Here is a handy dandy, color-coded screenshot from her:

An outline from Sureasmel using Final Draft 8

Be sure to check out Sureasmel’s full and very informative post on outlines, too.

All methods have their pros and cons. From personal experience, I would strongly advocate AGAINST starting with a word document– it’s very difficult to see where everything is at once and move things around. But once things are basically set in place, a word document is great for quick and tidy reference.

So how about you? How do you outline your books, and what method(s) do you find most effective? ***NOTE*** If you already have a photo of an outline or outline attempt on your blog, I would be happy to show it here, give you credit and link to the post in which it appears.