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Ask questions to find your story’s theme

Writers often hear the advice, “write what you know,” but my philosophy is, “write what you WANT to know.” A good way to begin discovering your story’s theme is to ask questions because we come to understand who we are and our place in the world by asking questions.

In the 12-minute video below, the creators of the animated movie “Inside Out” share how the theme of their story emerged for them over time as they went on a quest of discovery.

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There’s no crying in writing

Actually that is a lie. There’s plenty of crying in writing. You know those days. You want to bang your head against the wall, throw yourself on the floor, and kick and scream like a toddler having a supermarket meltdown.

We love the moments when everything flows and every sentence feels pristine with jewel-like words and images. Everything is clicking into place. But we have plenty of days when that’s not going to happen.

The sentences on the page aren’t matching up with the vision in your mind. That’s usually a sign of overthinking, trying too hard, or getting too analytical instead of staying in your wild mind. (To learn more about how you can practice writing with a wild mind, read Natalie Goldberg’s book, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.)

Have a little cry if you want and then try these tips:

Put yourself in your story. Regain your connection with your plot by inhabiting scenes as you write them. Visualize yourself in a scene as you write it. Taste, touch, and smell the action. Now reveal the sensory images as you write the scene.  Read more

How and why you should develop intuition in your characters

This morning, I was working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, not thinking of anything, when suddenly an intense sadness welled up inside me. Having lost my husband over two years ago, I thought it was another layer of grief so I allowed it to rise up and release but instead of releasing, the feeling became more intense and raw. Tears welled up as I continued to work out. I couldn’t figure out what had triggered the feelings and why they were so incredibly strong. And then a thought flashed through my mind—whose feelings are these?

From years of working with and helping people, I know that sometimes I’ll intuit other’s thoughts and feelings, but I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when this happens and setting up my boundaries. For me, this means doing a specific visualization.

This morning, the thought persisted that the sadness I was feeling wasn’t mine. I looked at the man working out on the machine next to me. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. He seemed fine. Read more

Poetry prompt: How to use a favorite poem to create your own

Have you ever read a poem that inspired you in your own writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” is one such poem for me. I have read it several times over the years. It’s one of those pieces that has stayed with me and became even more resonant over time.

My husband died two years ago so when I re-read Oliver’s poem recently it was from this new perspective of understanding how fleeting our time is here, how every moment is a blessing.

Her work inspired me to write a poem called, “When Love Comes.” I started by following the general form of her poem but then allowed my poem to flourish and take off in its own direction. Though I started off using her form as a guide, I made sure I used my own words and my own ideas.

The result? I like it enough that it’s going to be the final poem for my poetry book to be published later this year.

Below are a few tips for using another poet’s work as a jumping off place for your own poetry: Read more

What I love about writing poetry

For National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share some thoughts on my most favorite and least favorite parts of writing a new poem:

My favorite part of writing a new poem:

  • The idea that invades my mind like twining ivy and won’t let go until the entire poem has been put to paper
  • Making messy lines and blot outs and squiggles with my colored pen on paper as I play with ideas and words
  • Typing all that mess into a fresh, new document on my computer—that feeling of chaos becoming somehow ordered
  • Rereading the poem, feeling both its wholeness and its incompleteness in my mind and body
  • Editing the poem, fussing with words and line breaks, challenging myself to see what can be more specific or fresher
  • Reading the poem for my writing critique group to see my creation through new eyes, discovering where the poem can be improved

My least favorite part of writing a new poem? Read more

Use the flow state to make your writing and your life better

The word “flow” is overused these days. You hear it everywhere. “Go with the flow.” “Get in the flow.” “Don’t worry. Just let it flow.” (By the way, did you know when you tell someone not to worry, it’s scientifically proven that it makes them worry more?)

But being in “flow” doesn’t mean you just sit around doing nothing, waiting for life to take you wherever you think you want to go. No. That’s not flow. That’s called laziness. (And sometimes laziness is good, too, but I’m talking about flow here.)

I first discovered what the flow state was before I knew there was a name for it. Read more

Build characters and advance your plot with these dialogue best practices

Dialogue is a powerful way to reveal your characters and move your story forward. In The Craft of Character online class through Coursera.org, authors Amy Bloom and Brando Skyhorse discuss the role of dialogue in character development.

The class is part of Wesleyan College’s Craft Your Story Like the Great Writers specialization that takes students through plot, character development, setting and description, and style. The creative writing specialization covers elements of three major creative writing genres: short story, narrative essay, and memoir. The classes start at $79 each, but you can access videos and certain assignments free of charge.

In a video interview, Skyhorse, author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, and Bloom discussed the role of dialogue. Great dialogue should:

Reveal your characters. One of the ways readers get to know characters is from what they say as well as what they do, and more specifically, what they do to one another, Skyhorse said.  Dialogue should deepen the reader’s understanding of character or advance the plot. Read more