I’m delighted to announce the launch of my online course, Master the Art of the Synopsis. Designed for writers struggling to craft a compelling synopsis, the class divides the process into manageable stages. It expands upon the course I’ve taught for years, both in person and virtually, and adds supplemental materials including a workbook and sample synopses. Students will have lifetime access and be able to work through the units at their own pace.
After spending months–or years–writing a novel, writers often hate having to tackle a synopsis. How do you distill an entire book down to a few pages, or even paragraphs? But don’t let a sense of overwhelm stall your submission process. If you or someone you know needs to polish up those synopsis-writing skills, check out the course today.
National Poetry Month does not always hit my radar. I love poetry, but it’s the first thing to fall by the wayside when I’m busy. I realize that’s counterintuitive. Poems slip into cracks of time much more deftly than long novels or even short fiction. But they also require a different sort of thought process. Poetry demands time for reflection — time I don’t always have. But recently I’ve found myself reaching for favorite volumes more often. There’s something soothing about reading poetry when the world is on fire.
Falling into Poetry
I know I read poetry as a child — so many children’s books feature rhymes or short free verse. However, my first awareness of poetry as a formal genre came in fourth grade, when my teachers introduced it. In my homeroom, Mrs. Brown posted a new poem up on the wall each month for us to memorize and recite in front of the class. (I can still remember the first one, though the rest faded with time.) My reading teacher, Ms Islan — this was the first year we changed classes for reading and were grouped by skill level — did a biweekly poetry day, where she would read us a few poems. After the first week, she had us sign up to read a poem aloud, too, encouraging us to discover and choose what we would share.
I first encountered Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson in that class, but the most memorable discovery was Alfred Noyes. One day, Ms Islan stood in front of us and read The Highwayman. It was the longest poem I’d ever heard, a complete story. It was so exciting that I nearly fell off my chair, leaning forward in anticipation. More than forty years later, I can still close my eyes and hear the rise and fall of Ms Islan’s voice.
Later came Shakespeare. T.S. Eliot. Auden and Dylan Thomas, Shelley and Yeats. Edna St. Vincent Millay. e.e. cummings. Sylvia Plath. And modern poetry, discovered in The New Yorker or The Paris Review or tiny, obscure journals from the newstand at Border’s. But when I’m in need of comfort, I return automatically to those old, foundational favorites.
Poems as Meditation
Poetry runs the full range of human emotions. I’ve read poems that stir anger or frustration, that serve as a call to action. But in times like this, I reach for poetry that feels calming. Gentle rhythms, soft ideas, images of nature or quiet spaces. I’ve tried, repeatedly, to develop a meditation practice, but my brain insists on churning ahead. But a peaceful poem can occupy my thoughts, fill up all those frantic corners of my mind. Just the right poem can serve as a small time-out.
Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost
I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain, and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light. I have looked down the saddest city lane. I have passed by the watchman on his beat And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet When far away an interrupted cry Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye; And further still at an unearthly height, O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right. I have been one acquainted with the night.
The other day I asked for poetry recommendations on Twitter, so now I have some new poets to check out. I hope to find more ideas now that National Poetry Month has started.
How about you? Do you read poetry? Who are your favorite poets? What sort of poetry moves or relaxes you? I’d love to hear about your choices.
I’m excited to be teaching at the Futurescapes Workshop in Utah again this year. The workshop itself is full, but masterclasses have been opened up to the public. If you’re in the Provo area, I’ll be teaching my First Pages class on Sunday, February 16th. Find full registration details HERE. Class runs from 9am to 10:30am at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Convention Center.
First Pages: What Keeps Agents Reading
Grab your reader from the beginning. It’s great advice, but what does it mean in practice? And even more important, what does it mean in your manuscript? While it might be easy to recognize a fabulous beginning in a favorite novel, it can be difficult to determine what works in your own writing, especially after a few drafts where nothing seems to pop. Join me to learn what elements make for a compelling opening, what I look for in the first pages of a manuscript to keep me reading, and how to avoid the mistakes that most typically negate a fabulous first paragraph.
Because the workshop itself focuses on science fiction and fantasy writing, the masterclass does skew in that direction. However, the lessons taught apply to writing the opening for any novel. Hope to see some of you there!
Do you scribble margin notes in your books when you read? I never really adopted the habit of keeping marginalia, but this past week I read Austin Kleon’s post, Reading with a Pencil, so now I’m thinking about it. He claims marking up your reading material serves as a gateway to becoming a writer. It forces you to read with a writer’s brain. I can see why he says it, but I wonder if it’s true.
Margin notes felt wrong to me when I was a kid. My mother trained me early on not to write in books. She took me to the library weekly, so there was a specific logic in her insistence I treat the books well. It carried over into how I kept my own books. I recall going through a very brief period at about four when I underlined (in pencil) words I recognized. I say recognized rather than read because “kitten” isn’t difficult to pick out with the book is The Three Little Kittens. But I outgrew the habit quickly, probably about the time my mother realized what I was doing.
Through school, I took notes separately, in my notebook. Teachers handed out all of our textbooks at the start of the year and expected us to return them in good condition in June. The habit was so well ingrained that by college, when I was purchasing my books, it took conscious effort to highlight the text. Even then, I reserved margin scribbles and highlights for my math and science books. As an English major, I mostly read novels in thin-paged editions I tried to keep clean. Ink would have bled through those pages. Pencil would smudge and become illegible. Writing in them felt impractical.
But occasionally I’d come across books with margin notes. At the library, used bookstores, in a friend’s loan. I read enough literary criticism and biographies of authors including references to marginalia to become curious. What process of reading resulted in these small comments? So I decided to give it a try.
Armed with a few sharpened pencils, I crashed on the couch with my latest book and set to reading with a pencil in hand. But it wasn’t a particularly successful experiment. I’d get involved in the book and forget to make any notes whatsoever. Or, I’d grow so self-conscious about needing to take notes that my reading slowed to a crawl.
Looking back having now read Kleon’s post, I understand that the slow, thoughtful reading necessitated by making margin notes helps you read more closely. It forces you to analyze the text in a different way. But at the time, I tried to take notes more because I wanted to be a person who left witty comments in the margins than from a desire to read deeply.
Which brings me to my question. Does keeping marginalia automatically give you a leg up on becoming a writer? It no doubt makes you a better reader. You read more thoroughly, think through the narrative on a different level. You engage with the content. And the act of writing notes has been proven to help you recall what you’ve read. But is that the same things as reading like a writer?
I once read a book on how to write romance–maybe twenty-five years ago, so I can’t recall the title. The author recommended taking a favorite romance novel and marking it up with a color code. Plot development should be underlined in one color, characterization in another, action a third, and so on. I gave it a very brief attempt before giving up. First, writing is not that clear cut; sentences serve multiple purposes at once, so what color to choose? Second, the slow, frustrating task had me ready to throw my colored pencils out a window after less than a chapter. I’d never make it through underlining the book. Still, the process of trying to separate out those differen parts of the text showed how well the author had entwine them. It served as a lesson on book structure, which was ultimately the point.
Marginalia can include the reader’s thoughts on many aspects of the text. Looking through books with margin notes, you’ll find lovely quotes underlined, disgust expressed at purple prose, and comments on the sanity of the protagonist. Readers focus on whatever captures their attention, but not everything readers note will be helpful to their writing process. I’d argue marginalia can definitely be helpful to the developing writer, but that the most helpful marginalia occurs when the writer reads with that specific intention. A reader who reads for pleasure and happens to make notes won’t engage on the same level as one hoping to improve their writing.
What are your thoughts? Do you write in your books? Is it something you feel helps you understand how the author approached their work? I’d love to hear some other takes on the subject.
With summer unofficially coming to a close, a vacation reading roundup seems necessary. Maybe you’re taking off for a week before fall hits, or maybe you just wish you were. Either way, it’s time to catch up on the summer books you meant to read but never got around to.
I still have writing tips for you this week, but there are a lot of book lists. Some even hint at back-to-school and the approach of autumn. And don’t worry if you’re currently coping with winter and dreaming of spring. Plenty of these will appeal to you, too.
So without further ado, I give you this week’s Friday Links. I hope you find some great writing inspiration and some intriguing vacation reading to add to your TBR. Have a fabulous weekend!
Click if You Dare: 100 Favorite Horror Stories. – For those of you already planning Halloween costumes. A great list with a broad definition of what horror means, so even readers who shy away from scary books should find something here.
Friday Links Return feels like an appropriate title for my first blog post in a while. These links should help get your writer’s brain working, whether you’re stuck in summer vacation mode or the winter doldrums. Stir things up, jostle some new ideas around, or tackle that project you set aside months ago.
Likewise, I plan to use this post as a segue back to some regular blogging. Both work and life remain busy, but writing always serves as an excellent distraction from larger concerns. Time for me to remember that and get back on schedule. Friday Links Return is by no means a one-shot deal.
Despite the radio silence, I continued to collect interesting tidbits as if I were blogging the past few months. Today you benefit from my hoarding. I discarded things I considered time sensitive, but plenty of the slightly older links remain. I bring you writing advice and publishing culture. Also, I apologize now for what I’m about to do to your TBR piles. So many book recs. I hope you feel inspired on so many levels. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, and happy writing!
That RWA LTA Speech (News from Suz). – Romance author Suzanne Brockmann received the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s national RWA conference in Denver, and her speech caused quite a stir. It’s an excellent, inspiring read.
The Novel within the Novel. – A look at some books that have secondary stories nested inside of them. I love this device when it’s done well. Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders is another great example. Intriguing reads, whether or not you intend to give the structure a try in your own project.
Happy Friday! This week just flew by and I’m afraid I am a tad light on the links selection today as a result. But I do have a number of good ones so I hope they will suffice to offer up some encouragement and inspiration to you all. Never can tell what will set your imagination twitching.
This weekend is the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which I am sad not to be attending this year. I love this event and try to go whenever I can, but I’m out of the office the beginning of next week for the Futurescapes Workshop (which I’m very excited about), so I’m taking the weekend to get some things done beforehand. If you’re in the LA area, I highly recommend you swing by the USC campus to check out the book festival. It’s always a fabulous event.
With that, I’m going to move on to this week’s links. You’ll note a bit of an old school, literary bend this week, but I firmly believe that all good writing advice and all good reading applies to any type of writing efforts. Quality work is quality work, and you can always learn from it. I hope you find these interesting, and that whatever your plans for the weekend, you get in some good reading and/or writing time. Enjoy!
TGIF! I’m actually conference-bound this weekend, so this is a down-and-dirty edition of Friday Links before I hit the road. This week my links are a little bit all over the place, but I have the required reading recommendations and some writing inspiration, so I hope everyone finds a couple of things that interest them or set their brain sparking.
Short as this is, I do want to remind you all that the end of March is coming up, and with it, the end of the first quarter of the year. You might want to take a peek back at the goals you set at the start of 2017 and see how things are going. I’ll be revisiting the subject later next week, but the weekend is an excellent time to get a head start.
On that note, I leave you with this week’s links and wish you a wonderful weekend. Happy writing!
Greetings, all! I know it’s been on the quiet side here, with the exception of Friday Links, and I’m attempting to pull myself out of my reading/editing cave to remedy that a bit. I’m kicking off with a few small announcements today. First, we’re heading into conference season, so I’ve updated my Conference and Travel page with my schedule for the next few months. You can check in there to see what conferences I will be participating in, as well as any I’m simply attending. Please feel free to say hello if you’re going to be at one of these! I love meeting you all.
Next up, I’m pleased to announce that I once more will be teaching my webinar through Writer’s Digest – Conquer the Dreaded Synopsis: Construct the Ultimate Sales Tool. The course takes place online on June 1st, 2017, at 1pm ET. Please note that if you register ahead, you will receive an email after the live course with a link to a complete replay for your reference, and information on how to submit your synopsis to me for critique. So even if the time is not convenient for you, you might still consider signing up. I have plenty of students who register and take the class after the fact as best suits their schedule and submit their work for critique.
This was a short week but a busy one. Between all the rain we’ve had here in SoCal recently (finally!) and all the reading I’ve been doing (all work-related), I feel like I’ve been hibernating like a little bear. But the sun has come out and I have plans to get at least an hour or two of fresh air today before more rain shows up this weekend. But first, I have links for you! Some great book recs, especially if you’re trying to diversify your TBR or get some reads in specifically for Black History Month, some places you might want to submit your work, and even some fun stuff for inspiration. So go read a bit, write a bit, and get those creative juices flowing. Enjoy, and happy writing!
Storyville: How to Survive a Creative Writing Workshop – Maybe you’re just dipping your toe into this world for the first time, or maybe you’ve had an uncomfortable encounter before. Regardless, these tips will help you maneuver through a workshop so you can get the most possible out of the experience.