Jaye Wells

Tag Archives: Craft Thursday

Craft Thursday: Speak Up

Life has been pretty crazy lately. There have been some family things going on that require me to be away from my writing desk more often than I’d like. I promised my agent pages on a new project next week, so I’ve been a little stressed about getting it all done. Then I remembered that there is more than one way to get a story written.

Enter: Dictation.

tell your story

I read a couple of posts and a book by authors who swear by dictation as a method for drafting a novel. They pretty much all recommended Dragon for dictation, but a quick search told me the program is $300. I have text-to-speech (TTS)  on my Mac (just open any document or program and fit the “function” key twice), and I can’t imagine the Dragon software is 300X better. I did, however, download the free Dragon app for my phone for dictating on the fly.

Here’s what I’ve been doing. While I’m out running errands or if an idea comes to me while I’m folding laundry, I pick up the phone, speak into the app and then email it to myself. Now, the resulting document is a mess. First, the app doesn’t register punctation, so it’s really a string of words without any formatting. But the beauty of this is that once I’m back at my computer, I take those raw words, add the punctuation, and flesh out the scene. In essence, the dictation draft, messy as it may be, allows me to not face a blank page.

We’ve all been there, right? We get a fresh cup of coffee, turn off the internet, pull up our word processing program of choice, and then stare at the blinking cursor of death. It’s hypnotic, that cursor. It taunts and dares us to try to be brilliant. It’s daunting, y’all.

But if you can come to a page that already has some raw material on it, it somehow feels more manageable. “I don’t have to create anything from scratch, I just have to fix these words.”

A few benefits of this method include:

You talk faster than you write, so you can get a lot of words down quickly.

Speaking your story might make it easier to access your authentic voice.

Because your goal is just to get ideas and words down, it’s easier to ignore the internal editor.

Dictation might not be for everyone. It takes some getting used to to speak your story instead of type it. If it just doesn’t work for you, there’s another option. I have a new obsession for fountain pens. I have cheap ones and expensive ones (the cheap ones are actually my preference), and they make writing by hand a pleasure. In the same spirit of just getting things down, I like to sit down and write a quick scene on paper. Often it’s just a page or two of dialogue. There’s something freeing about putting it on paper. “I’m just jotting down some notes,” I say. “There’s nothing here that can’t be changed.”

Once I have a couple of pages, I either type the scene into Scrivener or I’ll speak it using the TTS function on my Mac. Again, the goal here is just to get something on the page that I can go back and flesh out. The bonus is that it’s easier for me to carry a pen and a notebook in my purse than to lug around my laptop. The benefits of this method are pretty similar to the dictation method, but you don’t have to worry about messing with technology you’ve never used before or the pesky problem of dictation programs inaccuracies.

My point here is that sometimes we have to get creative and work smarter. There is no writing police force who will arrest you if you speak your story instead of type it. You don’t have to sit in front of a computer for the work to count. Progress is more important that perfection, especially in the drafting phase.

If you’re feeling stuck, try to speak your story. Or pull out your favorite pen and jot down your scene. You’ve not nothing to lose but your resistance.

Happy Writing!

Craft Thursday: Making Old Stories Fresh

Today’s Craft Thursday entry is from my Jaye’s Office Hours vlog. James asked me how to avoid writing cliched stories, and this is my answer. Did you know I have lots of craft posts over on my Youtube channel? Subscribe today so you never miss a video!

Craft Thursday: Creative Play

Creativity is intelligence having fun

One of the interesting things you realize when you hang out with creative people is that most creatives are not one-dimensionally creative. For example, many of the writers and musicians and painters I know also love to cook. A painter I know loves to sew and a musician friend is also into photography.

I mention this on Craft Thursday because it’s important for us all to remember that being creative is not a means to an end. Creativity is a way of life. 

It’s important to remember this because there will be times when you feel burned out from writing. Sometimes this burn out is simply resistance. Other times, it’s your subconscious telling you it needs some time to replenish itself. Ironically, one of the best ways to refill your creative well is to be creative–just in a different way.

I was complaining to my husband the other day that every time I sit down to write, I hit a wall. I have about five books waiting to be written, but when I try to put words to paper I freeze up. Mr. Jaye reminded me that I’ve just come out of a pretty intense period of change. He suggested I take a break for a little bit, and give myself permission to do things for fun.

The truth is that at this point in my career, anything I write carries a lot of weight behind it. The weight of expectations, the weight of income, the weight of defining myself in my industry, etc. So I decided that instead of just retreating into Candy Crush or making myself crazy by investing too much energy in the election drama, I needed to be creative in a different way.

That’s when I remembered how much I used to love to paint. It’s been probably fifteen years since I’ve taken a painting class or done a project for fun, but that’s okay. I’m not doing this to prove myself to anyone. I’m doing it to inspire myself to be creative. So out came my old portfolio and my old black tacklebox filled with tubes of paint, brushes, sketching pencils, and those marvelous gummy erasers. Something sort of magical happened when the scent of the supplies hit me. I got excited.

I went to the art store and bought a kit to paint a cheesy painting of a water mill next to a river. It’s going to take me a long time because I’m an incredibly bad sketcher and the painting is pretty detailed. That’s all right. It’s fun to lose myself for an hour or two sketching tiny leaves and a water mill. That’s call flow, my friends. Flow is where the magic happens. 

The other great thing about this project is that its visual and tactile. Writing is such a cerebral practice. You’re in your head so much that sometimes it’s hard to find your way back out. With my painting, it’s nice to get my hands dirty and see the picture coming together as  I work.

Anyway, my point is that f you’re finding yourself stuck, don’t beat up your muse (or yourself). Try switching gears a little. You don’t have to be good at your other creative pursuits. That’s not the point. Being creative is about indulging your curiosity and your sense of play. You don’t have to do “serious” art either. Try some subversive cross-stitch or try a new recipe for dinner or create a vision board using pictures you cut out of a magazine. Some people might call these projects silly, but those people do not understand how critical play is to the creative mind. So ignore the haters and go try something new. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself itching to write again too. And the best part? Being creative is way more fun than beating yourself up for not always being a word machine.

Writing should be fun sometimes, remember? That’s why you started doing it, right? Creative play helps you get back to that beginner’s enthusiastic mind.

Question: What other forms of creativity do you do besides writing?

 

Craft Thursday: Creator vs Consumer

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Are you a creator or a consumer?

It’s a question I think about a lot these days. So much of our energy seems to be focused on consuming, chewing each other up and digesting whatever is offered without thought or principle.

I’m scared. I’m sad. I’m angry. I know this is because I have spent too much time lately consuming the garbage I’m seeing here and elsewhere online and in the news. As the old saying goes, “garage in, garbage out.”

I don’t want to be angry or bitter. I don’t want to believe that this world is unsalvageable or that people are not basically good. I don’t want to lose hope.

Yet, I know the source of hope always lies in creation. Luckily, my life centers on being creative and sharing those creations with others. I know magic exists in this world and in people because I have seen it over and over through stories and paintings, architecture and songs. I have seen strangers be kind. I have seen miracles in the mundane. I have seen humility in the magnificent.

Even if you’re not “a creative” you can still foster a positive creator mentality in your own life.

Creator Mentality means that you:
do instead of complain
make instead of destroy
build instead of tear down
share instead of hoard
foster curiosity instead of suspicion
compliment instead of insult
think instead of obey
build up instead of tear down
join communities instead of factions
are open and present instead of closed and anxious

Imagination, progress, change–these are the vehicles of creation. The fuels of this miraculous engine are curiosity, delight, and enthusiasm.

It’s a choice you have to make every day. Some days it’s harder than others. We’re not perfect, but we have potential.

Today, I choose creation. I hope you will, too.

Craft Thursday: Inspiring Yourself Into Inertia

24-take-the-first-stepI just spent half an hour watching videos about creativity. They’re fun, right? They make us feel better–like we’re improving ourselves even as we sit on our rear ends and passively absorb their wisdom.

Maybe that’s why you come here to read my Craft Thursday posts or watch my Youtube videos. You want to improve yourself. You’re committing to your craft by seeking out tools and resources and inspiration.

That’s all well and good. It’s great, in fact. But only if you get to the moment where you turn off your web browser, open a blank page, and put words on it. Even better if you do this every or most days.

The truth is that if you’re not careful you will inspire yourself into inertia. You will convince yourself that you will write eventually once you’ve learned all there is to know about writing. Once you’ve improved yourself enough you will finally be ready.

Well, my friends, the truth is that the true path of improvement and inspiration is the path of  doing. It is the path of trying. It is making a practice out of your art. Isn’t it nice to think of writing that way–as a practice? There is no blog post I could write, there is no Youtube video, there is no craft book that will finally tip you over into being ready. You become ready by working when you’re not ready. By practicing.

So today, I want you to promise yourself that you will spend half an hour putting the pen to page. It doesn’t matter if you write a short story, a poem, or a snippet of dialogue. Write something. Practice the craft.  Inspire yourself, improve yourself, and inform yourself by doing the damned thing.

Happy writing.

J.

Craft Thursday: Must-Read Craft Books

When I’m teaching writing classes, I tend to mention the same craft books over and over. So for today’s Craft Thursday, I thought I’d share the titles with you and why I like them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of every good craft and writing life book I’ve read. It’s just a list of the ones I name-check most.

 

41KC-kry-QL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_1. Fiction First Aid Raymond Obstfeld: Great overview of common problems that plague a lot of manuscripts. Good to read prior to revision to help diagnose problems. I don’t think I read this straight through, but I’ve referred to it again and again over the years.

2. Writing & Personality by John K DiTiberio & George Jensen: This book used Meyers-Briggs personality to help explain how each type approaches large writing projects. I can not overstate how much this book did to help me find my process. I reread the section on my time at least twice a year–or whenever I try to convince myself that I’d have an easier time if I plotted (hint: I wouldn’t). Note: I’ve had trouble finding new copies of this book, but you might get lucky and run into at a used book store.

41OCo751wEL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_3. Rules for the Dance by Mary Oliver: I don’t know why it took me so long to discover Mary Oliver’s poetry, but now that I have, I’m totally in love. This book is Oliver’s primer on writing and reading metrical verse. You might have learned some of the information about meter in high school, but if you’re like me, the only one you could reliably name was “iambic pentameter.” I suggest this book because understanding the rhythm of language will help your prose crackle with emotion and texture. If you don’t read this book, you should at a minimum start trying to read more poetry and music lyrics. Trust me, it will help you become a better writer.

4. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: This is not a craft book–it’s a writing life survival manual. I probably have as many books about how to survive being a writer as I do how to become a better one. This is a great, easy-to-read book that is worth rereading at least once a year.

51xKvj+iyQL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_5. The Anatomy of Story by John Truby: Truby’s background is in screenwriting, but the way he constructs his stories is very similar to my own process. By that I mean, he advocates an organic approach. Instead of plotting, the prework here is focused on character creation and world building. The book is filled with writing exercises and great advice. It can be a bit dense, but it’s definitely worth a read.

6. Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card: Character creation is one of my strengths, but I read this because I was writing a book with multiple POV characters and wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. He introduces both topics in a clear way that’s great for newer writers. However, for my money, the best thing in this book is Card’s MICE Quotient. I won’t tell you what it is, but it sort of blew my mind.

What are your favorite craft books?

Craft Thursday: Jaye’s Office Hours

This week, I wanted to let you know that I’ve started a new thing called “Jaye’s Office Hours.” Since I can’t get everywhere to teach writing classes or speak about my books, I decided to use vlogging to get some of my lessons out there. Jaye’s Office Hours won’t just be about craft. I’ll also answer questions about my stories and do virtual readings, etc.

Here’s my most recent vlog, where I discuss the three types of research I use to write my books.

Be sure to subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss any of the videos. Also, if you have a topic you’d like for me to tackle or a question about my writing or how to write, let me know in comments!

 

 

Craft Thursday: The Juice Is Worth the Squeeze

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Writers are pretty silly. We indulge in a lot of magical thinking and we believe people when they tell us there’s a right way to write. This is why, from very early in my career, I believed I needed to write a book linearly. I learned this method from my first critique group, which was filled with published authors. They were pros, I reasoned, they know what’s up. So I plotted and I wrote my books in order.

When I began submitting to agents, the feedback was all sort of similar, “You say this is a single-title, but it reads like a category romance.” All of my critique partners wrote category romance and they were the ones who drilled into me that I need to plot their way.

Eventually, I left that group. My exit had been coming for a while, but the final nail in the coffin was when they urged me to walk away from the book I was working on–a little Urban Fantasy called Red-Headed Stepchild that would later land me a six-figure, multi-book contract and make it onto the USA Today Bestseller list. I harbor no ill will toward those critique partners because I learned a lot from them, including when to walk away from a situation that was not doing my writing any favors.

After I got my deal and had to write the second book in the series, I stumbled for a long time. I’d written three novels by that point, but I didn’t understand my writing process. Cue two total rewrites that resulted in one of the most stressful periods of my life. It was only once my editor called me and said, “What happens when you start writing a book?” that I gave any real thought to how my mind processed story. The first version of Mage in Black was a mess because, terrified and self-conscious of performing under pressure, I resorted to plotting and linear writing because it was what the published authors I’d known in that critique group had done. The result was a terrible, formulaic book that lacked all the heart that RHSC had going for it.

When I began to talk through my process with my editor she exclaimed, “Oh! I get it–you’re a scene writer. I’ve worked with someone else like that. Here’s what you need to do … ” See, until that moment, I only knew of two types of writers: plotters and pantsers.What I learned from my editor that day is that false dichotomy was screwing me up. I had no idea it was okay to be some sort of combination of the two, which, I’ve since found, most of us are.

It’s sort of like saying, “there are two types of people: those who like night and those who like day.” It completely ignores the wondrous nuances that exist in a 24-hour period–dawn, midday, noon, afternoon, L’heure Bleu, dusk, evening, night, midnight, etc. In other words, you might have a tendency toward writing by the seat of your pants, but your version of pantsing is probably different from every other pantser out there.

My editor called me a scene writer, but I’ve since amended it to being a “puzzler.” Yes, I write my books as discrete scenes and I write them out of order. Some might say, yeah, that’s classic pantser. But, my friends, those people would be wrong. Pantsers are notorious for diving right into a story without any preparation. In fact, I do a lot of pre-work on my books. It’s just that instead of charting out each beat of the story, I prework by focusing first on world building and character development. I fill my subconscious with as much information as I can about the world and characters so that while I’m writing I have a ton of material that informs my choices. The first hundred or so pages of my books (sometimes way more than that) are a frenzy of scene writing with no regard to structure. It’s almost like writing a bunch of short stories about the characters. This period is me working totally on inspiration. I let my subconscious play until it starts to run out of fresh ideas. Then, and only then, do I start to plot. I take that collection of scenes and place them on a storyboard. Then I started shuffling them around  (puzzling) until the story reveals itself to me. Once I have a pretty good idea of the structure, I fill it in with all the scenes I’m missing.

Look, I know this isn’t the easiest process or the most logical, but it’s how I best create stories. When I try to work against this process, my stories are terrible. That’s because when I don’t allow my imagination to drive the process, I default to formula to create structure. That’s no bueno, my friends.

I’m not sharing this because I think you should write stories the way I write them. Instead, I simply want to suggest to you that if you’re stuck, you might be struggling to understand your own process. Alternately, if you’re a plotter and find yourself hitting roadblocks, maybe try to shake things up a little. If you can’t write the next logical scene, jump ahead to another chapter or scene you know is coming. Sometimes we think we’re linear writers when we’re not. You can be a plotter and easily write your scenes out of order because you already have the plan in place. Or, if you write by the seat of your pants, maybe just do a quick sketch of what you think the scene you’re about to write is really about. That might speed things up a bit.

Bottom line: You have to go where the juice is, and to get there you have to understand your process (the squeeze).

You’ll know the juice when you see it. Your fingers will itch to start typing. When you talk about those scenes, your speech will speed up and people will remark on the way your eyes glow.

Knowing your process is basically understand where to find your juice. I rebel against structure and linearity, so my juice requires me to mix things up and not commit too soon to plan for the story. Your juice might require intricate plotting using Excel or a storyboard. Or your juice might be diving off the cliff and plowing through the story from page one to The End without stopping. All of these methods are valid as long as they get you to your juice.

Writing is work, but it should not feel like punishment. If you’re honoring your process, you will still have tough days, but you will move past them more quickly because you’ll understand how to get back to the juice faster.

Now, a caveat: It took me a long time to understand my process. It involved me blocking out all the well-intentioned advice and getting out of my own damned way. I took a lot of classes and tried a lot of methods. In addition, sometimes a story will throw a curve ball and you’ll have to try some new approach. The point is, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know your process. Also, if you know your process, don’t be slave to it to the detriment of your work. And for goodness sake, don’t turn into one of those insufferable artistes who use process as an excuse for being a jerk.

Getting to your juice is simply about knowing how your imagination processes ideas and how to best organize your work flow to optimize it. If you’re stuck, try something new. If you’re not sure what your process is, keep working. Eventually the patterns will reveal themselves. Just never forget that if writing feels like punishment you might be approaching it in a way that doesn’t optimize your flow.

Happy writing, friends.

Early Craft Thursday: Escape Hatches

Today for an early Craft Thursday, I have a guest post up at the wonderful Writers in the Storm blog about writer burn out.

Here’s a preview:

See, what I figured out is that everyone needs a hobby. We each need something that doesn’t have ego or income tied to it. When my hobby became my job, I lost that safe space where I could create without fear.

We don’t talk enough about the causes of burn out in the writing community. Everyone is too afraid of admitting that they’re not super successful that they don’t know when to ask for help. Don’t let this be you. The writing life you save might be your own!

Read the post over at Writers in the Storm.

Craft Thursday: Old Dog, New Tricks

One of the most important things any writer can do is be open to learning new tricks. Continuing education of all types keeps your tool box stocked and your edges sharp. Because Craft Thursday is all about helping provide tools, I thought I’d share a new trick I recently discovered.

I just finished a book yesterday. Yes, it’s the book I waxed poetical about in my last Craft Thursday post–the one that helped me find my song again. The thing is, even though this book represents a lot of personal triumph for me and is probably the closest thing to a book of my heart as I’ve written, it still needed lots of technical craft to pull off. Enter: Revisions.

I did a rewrite of the draft last fall and have, since then, been working on edits. Once I’d dealt with beta readers’ feedback and my MFA mentor’s copious notes, it was time to do my final read-through.

For years, I have extolled the virtues of reading work out loud. I’d read several portions of this book to myself throughout the revision process, but I planned to read it all the way through for the final pass. I mentioned this on Facebook the other day, and it started an interesting conversation with author P. T. Michelle. She claimed that having the book read to her via text-to-speech was a crucial step in her own revision process.

I’ll be honest. At first, I was a bit skeptical. The mechanical quality of TTS was off -putting. Besides, I’d been doing my read-aloud trick for years and it worked just fine, thank you very much.

But then, just because I wanted to prove I was right, I tried it on a chapter. This was the first chapter of the novel–the one that had been read and reread dozens of times. It had been edited and run through Grammarly and vetted by betas. I’d read it out loud, myself, probably ten times. So you can imagine my surprise when the TTS voice found some things I’d missed throughout all those other passes.

I was sold.

It took me about five days to get through the entire book. I used the TTS on my Mac. Patrice said she used her Kindle but I wanted to have a little more flexibility so the computer worked better for me. Here’s what I did: With the printed manuscript in front of me, I’d highlight the chapter I was working on and set the TTS to go. As the voice read out loud, I read along on the printed version. If I caught an error, I’d mark it with a highlighter or pen. Making extensive edits wasn’t possible if I wanted to keep up with The Voice. At the end of each chapter, I’d go back through the draft and make the appropriate changes. Doing them that fast meant I didn’t forget why I marked a word or passage. It also meant that by the time I was done going through all the chapters, my edits were pretty much done.

I can not tell you how helpful this strategy was in accomplishing a lot of fine editing work. It’s tedious work, but so crucial. I will say that this is not for rough drafts. It’s for that moment when you’ve done all your rewrites and layering work and wordsmithing passes. It’s for that final pass, where you want to catch those typos, rhythmic stumbles, or continuity issues. The continuity thing was a huge surprise, actually. I caught a ton of them with this method–way more than I’ve ever caught reading the book myself. I also realized that both listening to the book and reading it allowed me to catch more missing words, which I tended to fill in when I only read it out loud.

Yes, the monotonous voice of the TTS guy took some getting used to (my Mac had an option of six voices–three female and three male), but I think the lack of inflection actually made it easier for me catch mistakes. I also appreciated the ability to adjust the reading speed. I think the Kindle has a better-sounding TTS, but, like I said, I preferred being able to spread out on my desk and mark up the printed file.

So what have we learned here? First, if you haven’t tried this method, I’d definitely recomend it. Second, I personally learned that even though I tend to be someone who is always trying to learn new things, I still can get stuck in my ways. Lesson learned.

What new tricks have surprised you lately?