Writing (Life) Tips to Remember

writing-life-tips

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

A young woman, a college sophomore interested in studying writing, reached out to me with questions recently. We met and for an hour and I gave her my best advice. And I reminded myself of some points regarding both writing and life I’d rather not forget – and so often do.

I thought by writing them down and sharing them with you, I might remember them better myself…

writing-life-tips

  1. What would you tell your young writing self? This was one of her first questions. “Just chill” popped out of my mouth immediately. I think we all can get so caught up in the chaos surrounding writing, we can forget the joy of the process. Wild success or a long struggle for publication can derail you on either side of the spectrum. Anxiety about any or all of it (including social media and marketing) can inhibit your joy, your voice and weaken your stories. Enjoy the story you are writing right now and relish the process of writing in general. I also added that no one would travel this road if it weren’t one’s calling, in that individual’s very DNA. So if writing is on your heart, trust it’s there for a compelling reason and trust,and enjoy,the journey.

And on that point – some stories aren’t ready to be told right now. I shared with her that my “writing” began after an injury in 2009. Prior to that, writing was a frustration for me. I did not “just chill” and tried to force stories out of me. I couldn’t get a handle what I wanted to say, nor could I eek out the time to say it. What I hoped might be my career in my twenties came much later, after I’d had more experience, seen more of life, and, honestly, gone through more pain. The stories I tell now are different because the writer is different. So again, this goes back to trusting the journey. No experience is wasted.

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  1. What would you give up to become a better writer? It was an interesting question and made me think about the details that fill my days. I noted at the end of 2017 a lot of goofing off had entered my writing time. Writing from home there was always something to be done: laundry was piling up, the kitchen needed to cleaned, my phone was always chirping and wasn’t there something good to eat? So one goal for 2018 is more focus and fewer distractions. I’ve put my time into a block schedule and the phone is on Do Not Disturb. On the whole, I think it’s a good idea to take look at what fills our time every now and then and assess what we can change – either to become better writers or to become better people, ideally both.
  2. What is your number one recommendation? I truly believe writers are readers. We can’t pour out words if our wells aren’t filled with great stories, strong voices, new ideas and a mind quiet enough to digest them. Craft books are important – Donald Maass writes some of my favorites – but touching a wide variety of stories, fiction and nonfiction, is paramount. Fill up the well continuously.

And, as I’ve said in all my posts: Have fun!(Another bit of advice to always remember!)

See you next month and thanks for sharing this time with me…

Katherine

Read More Writing Tips

How Christian is Your Fiction? by Dan Walsh

7 Tips for Writing With Young Kids at Home by Lindsay Harrel

How to Show and When to Tell by Susan May Warren


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

Filling Up Your Well

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

Writers are readers. There is no way around that. To created deep and meaningful stories, to create fun and fast stories, to create any stories – one needs to read lots of stories. When pushed up against a deadline, it’s are hard to read many or even any books – and I will admit that during those last frenetic days, other writer’s books go away as I get deeper into my own. However, the minute my manuscript is handed in, I’m empty. There isn’t a shred of creativity left…

And that when what I call the “well of good stories” must be refilled. I dig into the world and words of others, relishing their creativity and getting excitement about my own – when it returns.

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Here are a few favorites I’ve come across recently. This list is by no means exhaustive; it’s more of a tasting of good books I’ve read:

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (Death is fascinating!)

Did you Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg (Incredible narrative voices and so many of them)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Multigenerational tale with multiple POVs)

The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (Delightful retelling/sequel to a beloved classic)

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Wonderful setting and cadence of language)

Please in the comments add your favorites. We should share because reading is an essential aspect to writing. And winter is a wonderful time to curl up with a good book.

Enjoy!

Katherine


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

Beta Readers

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

This is the busy season…

So I thank you for spending a moment here to chat writing. I truly believe that good stories convey a degree of truth. On some level, even the most plot-driven shoot-em-up-dystopian-apocalypse allows us to peek within the truth about our dreams, our human experience, and our faith, life, and perhaps death. Such writing takes diligence, perseverance, prayer, hours upon hours at one’s computer, sacrifice, a ton of good ideas, a few not-so-good ideas – AND COURAGE. Good stories, and especially great ones, take lots of courage.

Today I want to suggest you push what you’ve already got – courage – a touch farther. Take your manuscript and pass it to a Beta Reader. A Beta Reader can be a friend but isn’t necessarily one. It’s a person who is going to be honest, push your story, push you and, if you’re blessed, fuel your fire and stimulate you to new twists and turns. A Beta Reader might even show you some holes within your plot and gaps within your character arcs.

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This was a tough one for me. I used to hang on to stories until the 11th hour – basically my deadline. At that point, I’m always too close to a story to envision anything new. This is probably why I’ve always loved the edit process. It has historically been my first crack at a Beta Reader and the new ideas that come from that input. But a few manuscripts ago, I let the story go earlier. I found someone who would be honest with me and call out stalled plotlines, inconsistencies, muddy writing and basically the mess that is my first draft. Her constructive criticism allowed me to push the story deeper before my editors got ahold of it. There were insights, avenues, and emotions I missed. Her observations not only forced me to recognize them, they jumpstarted the fixes.

Yet… It’s a risk. Letting a story go before you takes courage. But we’ve got that, right? We are given a spirit of courage – so let’s use it. Let’s step out, offer our stories for assessment, assistance, and even criticism – knowing that each will sharpen our writing and make it more powerful.

Thanks for stopping by… Now back to December’s Joy!

Katherine


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. She holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

Finding Your Voice

by Katherine Reay, @Katherine_Reay

“Voice” is so important – and, in many ways, so illusive. It’s unique. Yet every writer has one. It’s the narrative tone in which you feel most comfortable and it conveys your story with the greatest strength.

I was at MIBA’s (Midwest Independent Booksellers Association)fall conference last week and participated in a round of “speed dating” with bookstore buyers. Another writer and I were paired together and we traveled table to table to pitch our stories. Five minutes each. Talk fast. Move on. While some writers, I heard, had a bit of competition over their five minutes, my partner and I had a blast.

She was amazing… She finished her MFA a couple years ago and hated the literary fiction she was writing. She felt it was boring, and she said everyone else did too. She couldn’t sell anything. Then she started writing a humor column for a blog and a street-smart-bold-sassy-brash voice came out of her. She started having fun with the blog and the character, and the words flowed fast. A couple years later find her sitting beside me, pitching a hardcover book ready to drop next April by Random House.

I’ll tell you more about her book another time because I don’t want to get away from the point: VOICE.

Reading the story above, a writer might think it best to adopt a provocative, snarky, funny, or cynical voice to attract agents and publishers. But that would be missing the point of the above writer’s experience. It wasn’t that my new friend adopted this new tone to attract a contract; she unleashed it within her to tell a story. Catch the part about the words flowing? She said she couldn’t put them down fast enough –t the voice was within her and it wouldn’t be silenced. I experienced that myself with Dear Mr. Knightley. Sam Moore would not leave me alone until I laid out her story – and let her live it.

I suspect that happens often that happens when one finds a story’s voice. Thoughts and words, emotions and drama, flow more freely because they come from something creative, organic and exciting within the writer.

Without honing, refining and delivering your own voice, your story can create a layer of distance between you and the reader – and everyone can feel it. You never want that. Yes, you want to deliver 3-D characters, strong plot, and tense conflict – but most of all, you want to deliver impact. Distance dimishes impact. I say investing a little effort to discover and hone one’s voice is time well spent…

  1. Don’t think. Don’t edit. Plan to throw it away. Simply sit down (or stand at your desk as I do) and have fun writing whatever comes to mind,in whatever tone evolves. This is a great exercise to get the juices flowing and dig around for your unique voice. Don’t let this distract you from your work, but do give this a few minutes everyday. It may surprise you.
  2. Read novels with a strong sense of voice. Filling up your well of great stories is always a good idea. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of my all-time favorites. Death has a fascinating voice… To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Phantom Tollbooth and The Catcher in the Rye are other great examples – the last two being a couple of my favorite books.
  3. Share your writing with trusted readers. This is a tough one, but I do recommend it. Find a couple people you trust and share a variety of writings and ask what they think. In fact, that is how the woman in my story came to find her voice. Friends called her again and again asking, “Why don’t you write like this all the time?”
  4. Have fun! You’ll find my posts almost always include this. Perhaps because I need reminding myself. I can take this journey far too seriously at times and that is a sure-fire way to kill creativity, voice, expression and joy. So have fun!

Thanks for spending some time here with me today! A little time working on this all-important and somewhat illusive aspect of writing will make your stories more powerful, more authentic, and more saleable. All three are exciting adventures. Enjoy!

Katherine


The Austen Escape

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues – particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy& Jane and The Bronte Plot, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist. Her latest novel, A Portrait of Emily Price, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK!All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Sheholds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and isa wife, mother, rehabbing runner, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.