Next Meeting

There will NOT be a meeting in October 2019, as the third Thursday in October is the first day of the FWA Conference.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Merry Christmas and Joyful Holidays 2009

Greetings, members and guests,

I just want to extend my hope that each of you experience the holidays in a most satisfying way, and carry throughout the year the same joy of this season. If your season is difficult, I hope you might find one corner of your world where the light shines a little brighter, and reflect that light to others. It has been a joy of mine to get to know some of you better this past year, and I hope to meet many more new people in the coming year.

I'm looking forward to the new year and our kick-off speaker, Margo Hammond, former book editor for the St. Petersburg times and one of the Book Babes, the dynamic duo of reading recommenders who appear on WMNF radio on Wednesday mornings at 11:30am. (You can also listen to archived shows on the radio website:

Membership Note: This past year we show a net gain of 19 new members! Thanks to everyone for making our group a warm and friendly one, filled with writers excited about their craft.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Donna Cutting Introduces the Sexiest Man Alive

"Running makes me think of death." Yeah, let me give you a good therapist's number. "A cockroach crawled across his face, and he looked up to realize he had spent the night in a dumpster, his best sleep in months." And they didn't even leave the light on. The dark side of professional sports; what it's like to be a foster child; mapping Alaska in a wild adventure -- present books and future books, FWA members practiced their pitches under the expert eye of certified professional speaker Donna Cutting tonight, Thursday, December 10th.

Donna warmed up the group with a quick review of the Celebrity Experience, then covered some basics of presentation and why a writer might want to get comfortable in front of an audience. She broke the structure of a presentation into three parts: Opening, Body, and Closing. Sounds very similar to a 3-act play to me.

After each brave writer made their pitch, Donna provided feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, and was impressed with each person's preparation. Donna provided a handout that gave a concise list of the main objectives and points of each part of a presentation.

Oh, and the sexiest man? He spoke of the cockroach, but shall remain nameless. Guess you just had to be there!

Until next year,

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In the Chair

Fellow writers!
I'm blogging from Sonoma Coffee Cafe on 66th St. just north of 70th Ave. Only open about 4 months, it is much less crowded than Panera, Starbucks, etc. Free Wi-Fi, but no, I'm not doing my nanowrimo thing here. I'm working on my first novel. Just read some statistics that say only a few first novels ever get published. That won't deter me! It may be that it's just the way to get your feet wet in the process, to understand the amount of work involved. Because it's a lot! I'm not going to kid you.

I'm looking forward to Donna Cutting next month. I'll firm up the topic on Tuesday when she calls, but it's about presentation. When I observe people at book signings, the ones who can speak seem to have the most success. That might be a good reason to do the open voice poetry readings. (No mic, so nothing will blaring!) You would have a chance to practice in front of an audience.

Okay, my butt's in the chair, it's nice and quiet here, uncluttered, and I'm going back to my revising and rewriting.

Success to all,

Friday, November 13, 2009

FWA puts the Dazzle in Shimmer

Congratulations, group! Bev Browning, ghostwriter from Gainesville (and professional writer for 25 years), told me that our group offered greater responses to her Shimmer workshop prompt than any other she has taught. She was impressed with your capabilities! (I am, too, and honored to know so many of you.)

Her unique approach to creating subtext, to building depth in our words, enlightened everyone who attended in the refreshed atmosphere of the remodeled library. I shared with her later that I had never come across someone diagramming sentences the way she did. It gave a visual sense to the rhythm and cadence, clarifying something that we sometimes think of only with our ears, and not our eyes.

I know she was excited to be here, and I mentioned that I felt the same that she would come and share her knowledge with us from that far away. Her bonus material on the law was also well-received, generating good questions and forcing me to trash a couple of ideas that were floating around in my library of story ideas.

As we close out the year next month I am grateful for all that I have learned from you, the members of FWA, and our guests, through your generosity of spirit and insightful analysis of my work. I hope everyone feels they have grown stronger this year as a writer, love the process and the time spent writing, and find continued and greater success next year. Every time you put fingers to keys, pen to paper, in my mind, you are successful.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We're Moving Back!


As you'll notice at the top of this page, we are moving back to the Main library for the next 6 months. Renovations have been completed and the library opens on the 9th. Our first meeting is on the 12th, featuring that bubbly, crazy, celebrity ghostwriter, Bev Browning. She's coming from Gainesville, and will present a workshop on subtext, the art of how to put things between the lines. Her workshop is titled 'Shimmer' and everyone who experienced it at the Anhinga Summer Workshop gave it rave reviews.

I'm starting NaNoWriMo in a couple days (Sunday, to be exact), and my name is JohnnyStPete. If you join the national novel writing month website to keep track of trying to write 50,000 words in a month, look me up!

Hope to see you soon, and keep on writing,


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Final Day!

The final day is here, but hasn't yet begun. I'm exhausted, but had a great time getting to know old friends better, meet new people, create scenes here and there. Just having fun. I won't name all those who made this conference one I'll remember, that would probably be as interesting as the Oscar acceptance speech for best gaffer. There is one workshop left. I am skipping the one that started 25 minutes ago, a choice between two different writing prompts. I've written enough, revising my first page each night, completing 3 more reflections (poetry) to finish November, and adding posts here when I could.

I look forward to seeing everyone at the November meeting. I will begin email reminders mid-week once I've established our meeting place. I intend to have that task completed by Wednesday night.

Keep writing, and keep talking to writers!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday Evening Post

Oh man! What a blast this conference has been. Not only have some of the workshop presentations been very good (though way too short, but it's a conference, not a workshop!), but meeting all the people has been a blast. I think that's one of the most valuable if not the most valuable things to take away from a conference. It's about meeting people, listening to them, figuring out what the current trends are or how people view their jobs (in the publishing business), and just getting to a certain comfort level around those you want to be able to impress when the time comes. (For me, that's not quite yet here.) Gotta get ready for the dinner. I'll squeeze one more in if I can. Post, not dinner. There's too much food here! (Not enough water/soda.)


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Night Before Conference and all through the hotel...

The volunteers were getting instructions on what to do, which should make this conference the smoothest running! Preparations sound really great, and I hope it will contribute to a great experience for everyone.

Note for next month! I've been in touch with Bev, who is following our blog from New York (where she is currently working), and she's excited to be presenting her Shimmer workshop here, a hands-on workshop on creating subtext. (The underlying ideas and messages in your story.) She is bringing another member of Anhinga with her, whom I'm sure you'll enjoy meeting, a girl named Sue. (That's right, not a boy!)

And lest I forget, she sends cream cheese greetings! This lady is phenomenal, and someone from whom I think you would learn so much. (I hate those kinds of sentences, but hey, I think that's grammatically correct.)

I'll bring a copy of the Collections book to our next meeting if anyone would like to see what it looks like. I'd like to set up some kind of group to help those interested in submitting for next year that would offer guidance and critique prior to the submission deadline. It would be great to see more of us get published!

I'm also bringing back information on Margie's offerings, which I'll share at the next couple of meetings.

Gotta grab some sleep before the early start. Registration opens at 6:30am!!!


Margie Lawson Afternoon Impressions

Margie Lawson's workshop wrapped up this afternoon, and tomorrow begins the conference. She whipped through the material like a whirling dervish, trying to cover as much as possible while still giving the attendees the understanding needed to use her tool, the EDITS system.

I think there are several important things I took from this workshop. Any tool you find, if you want to see if it's for you or not, you have to USE it. You can't just look at it and say, 'oh, maybe, maybe not.' So I've tried the snowflake method, I've tried several other things, and have come to understand what works for me. With this understanding I can say that Margie's tool looks very good, and is something I will use, at least on some scenes or chapters.

I've already discovered I need to rewrite my most important scenes, in order to ramp up their emotional impact. It reminded me of what some of my readers (editors, critiquers) have said. 'You just did something major to a character and the character didn't respond. Huh?'

Margie took a passage from a well-known author's book and went over it showing how she would use her system of highlighting on it. Someone looked for a 'hard and fast' rule, but she demurred. There is not right or wrong pattern of highlighting. It's purpose is for you to discover the tone of your story, and whether it makes sense the way you've written it.

Based on what I've seen from her, I'd recommend getting more of her information. It could definitely help!

Tomorrow starts the conference, and I'll post as I can, outside of my volunteering duties. I also took a first look at the FWA Family Collections book (Chrissy let me take a look), and I found it to be very professional. I highly encourage everyone to take a shot at next year's collection, and will do something with our group for those that want to work on a submission.


Margie Lawson mid-day 1st Impression - She rocks! Hits the nail on the...!

Oh, that's so cliche! And she'd be the first to point it out to me. The morning of this session has been filled with great information, and in looking at the first page of my story for maybe the hundredth time, I still found it woefully weak! (Alliteration, a tool that can be used to good effect, sometimes.) She has promoted her work during this time, and I intend to take a closer look at it. Based on Sam's recommendation, she is everything promised, and more.

Of course, implementing her system, even part of it, requires work. Are you up to it? Or do you like to just write and think, it's really good just the way it is. She mentioned a technique I first learned at Anhinga, that of recording your reading so you can listen to it. I think it might make all the difference to listen after the fact rather than while you read out loud. So, I'm going to try it.

Check out her website and sign up for her newsletter. It also comes with good tips, as some have mentioned in the class today just by pointing things out to everyone.

Later, and keep on writing!

FWA Conference Blog! Margie's Day

Greetings, members!
I apologize for getting Molli's review up so late, right as the workshop prior to the conference begins. But, as always, I want to send out blogs while I'm here for those who can't make it. For those going to the Times Festival and/or Necronomicon, I'd love to hear about those, too.

Today is Margie Lawson's workshop, which begins in a few short hours. I'll send updates, maybe at lunch and the end, as to how it goes, and how it compares to some other things I've come across. (Though to be fair, it's difficult to compare something you've read with someone you hear. They are two different types of learning experiences.) Chrissy mentioned we have 100 people attending the workshop, so that in itself will make it interesting. Sounds a little bit like a college class!!!


Synopses Dissected by Molli

Molli Nickell dissected the synopsis for an enthusiastic crowd at the October 8th meeting, going over the requirements, showing us a method to make it easier to write them, and tearing apart, gently, our own struggling attempts at this most dreaded part of the writing process. Did we sweat? You bet! (Okay, now I'm picking up phrases from Sunny Fader!) Molli's clear directions were a big help and everyone raved about the benefits of having had her go over their first or second or third paragraphs. Why is this so hard? We write tens of thousands of words to a story, then can't seem to condense it into a single page. I boggles my mind, but also reminds me that when we get into the detail of our story, we tend to have difficulty pulling back to describe the forest.

Thanks to all those who attended, and I hope to see some of you at the conference!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Viewpoint Workshop by Diane Marcou

I attended the Viewpoint workshop sponsored by PINAWOR today, led by Diane Marcou (one of our presenters earlier this year). I thought, if I'm promoting these workshops, I ought to try one out to see how they are.

The workshop ran 2 hours for $10. Diane covered the topic well, and though I had heard some of this before in conversation with her, it was good to hear it in a group setting, where a lively discussion took place. In addition, she ran us through an exercise for the last quarter of the meeting that was very informative. (It also revealed to me how slow I first begin to write when presented with a topic!)

Based on my experience, I recommend these workshops for anyone who wants to get a good grounding in the topic, and get feedback on things they may be unsure of. Here's the schedule for the remaining three:

10/10  Dialogue  Susan Adger and Barbara Schrefer
10/17  Character Development Ann O'Farrell
11/14 Editing   Elenora Sabin

You'll recognize Elenora as another one who has presented to our group earlier this year on revising and editing. If you missed that, or would like a refresher, this promises to be a good one.

The classes are held at the Highland Rec Center in Largo from 1:30pm to 3:30pm.
For more information, visit their website:

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Diane Sawyer Locates Dead Bodies

Mystery author Diane Sawyer (her 5th Avalon mystery will be coming out soon), presented ways to dig up stories for mysteries at the September 10th meeting. In a very entertaining and enlightening presentation Diane covered not only mysteries, but also magazine stories in several genres, including children's and romance. The multi-talented author had a quick wit, engaging style, and answered attendees' questions readily.

She talked about naming characters, using settings she was familiar with, (changing for her needs), dealing with editors and submitting work. She talked about research and how valuable it was to her stories and how she is always thinking of ideas for stories by observing her surroundings with the provocative question, 'Where would I hide a dead body here?'

I think everyone enjoyed her talk and the insights she shared.

Until next month,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This Year You Write Your Novel

Mosley, Walter. This Year You Write Your Novel. Little, Brown Company, 2007.

I have a weakness for "How to" books from my favorite authors, so I was happy to discover Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel. This slender volume (128 pages) doesn’t break new ground in advice on the general mechanics of writing. Mosley provides generally the same advice on the elements of fiction that are found in most books on novel writing, such as the various points of view, showing vs. telling, and so on. But his advice still worth reading, both for the value of reinforcing the fundamentals and also for Mosley’s characteristic poetic style. In discussing the need to chose the right descriptive details to advance the story or characterization, he advises, "Details will devour your story unless you find the words that want saying." On the need to write daily to maintain momentum and keep the story from slipping away, he writes, "[A] novel is larger than your head." On making writing a first priority: "Let the lawn get shaggy and the paint peel from the walls."

All of Mosley’s advice is delivered in the gentle but insistent tone of the best teachers and coaches. For me, the most valuable chapter was the one dedicated to "The General Disciplines That Every Writer Needs." In particular, a section on "Avoidance, False Starts, and Dead-End Thinking" contained a wealth of wisdom on overcoming a persistent problem with self-restraint. "If you want to write believable fiction," he urges, "you will have to . . . revel in the words and ideas that you would never express in your everyday life."

Other than his insistence that you must write every day, there is little of the strident, dogmatic tone I have found in similar books by other authors. Mosley gives advice but does not, for example, insist that you must use an outline--or that you must not. He encourages writers to find their own methods of writing, and to persevere in those methods until the first draft is complete. He has extensive advice on revision, which in his view is where the real act of writing begins. A first draft, he says, "is little more than an outline of the novel you wish to write." Once you have finished that draft, "you are ready to write it."

There are more comprehensive books on writing, and if you’ve read any of them, you won’t find a lot of new ideas in This Year You Write Your Novel. But if you’re a fan of Mosley’s style or if you need a little encouragement to motivate you, it’s worth picking up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lorin Expounds on Scenes

Lorin Oberweger, Free Expressions founder, editor and award winning author, discussed scene structure with an attentive group at the August 13th meeting. Using an example opening scene, she covered the basic building blocks of a scene, including time and place, viewpoint character, and inciting incident. Her handouts included a scene synopsis card, which guides the writer in building a sound scene, and her own Scene Response Sheet, which gives the reader a group of criteria for rating the effectiveness of a scene on a gut level. This is helpful from a critique standpoint as well as a self-evaluation.

Ms. Oberweger's relaxed style and confident command of knowledge made her a big hit with the audience, and many told me afterward how grateful they were for her presentation. I look forward to her return in the future.

If anyone is interested in improving their writing skills through a workshop, which is highly recommended by many writers, editors and others in the business, Lorin hosts several excellent seminars, including those by Donald Maass. (Enthusiastic disclaimer: I attended his High Tension Workshop last year and it was incredible!)

'til next month,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

45 Master Characters

Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. 45 Master Characters. Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.

The "Hero’s Journey" is a common archetype in storytelling. Mythologist Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces remains popular with fiction and screenwriters sixty years after its first publication, and classes and books on using the hero’s journey in fiction abound. Most of the time, treatment of the hero’s journey is limited to the masculine perspective, and the archetypal hero is of course only male. In 45 Master Characters, screenwriter Victoria Lynn Schmidt balances the situation by presenting both the feminine and masculine hero’s journey and character archetypes of both sexes.

Schmidt presents eight feminine and eight masculine character archetypes, drawn from Greco-Roman and Egyptian mythology. For each archetype, she first discusses the character’s positive, heroic form and then its negative, villainous form. For example, Aphrodite is shown in positive form as "The Seductive Muse;" her flip side is the "Femme Fatale."

For the heroic form of each archetype, Schmidt discusses:
  • General character traits and appearance.
  • What the character cares about.
  • What the character fears.
  • What motivates the character.
  • How other characters see the character.
  • Developing the character arc, including other archetypes that pair well with this one to spur the character’s growth.
  • Summary of the character’s assets and flaws.
The negative form of each archetype is treated less thoroughly. Schmidt gives only a general description and a bullet-list summary of character traits for the negative archetypes.

Each section concludes with examples from TV, film, and then history and literature. Literary figures tend to be thinly represented vs. TV and film. Most of the "History and Literature" examples are historical rather than literary figures.

Sixteen archetypes with two forms of each makes 32 characters, but the title promises us 45. Those extra 13 characters are provided in a separate section on supporting character archetypes. Schmidt classifies supporting characters into three categories: Friends, Rivals, and Symbols. Each category is further divided into a number of types, covered in less depth (naturally) than the main character archetypes. Again, examples are drawn almost exclusively from films. Some of the distinctions in the types are thinly drawn: The rival types "Jester" and "Joker" are almost the same thing, as she admits, and the "Symbol" character archetype is oversimplified. However, that doesn’t mean that this section of the book isn’t valuable. Each of the thirteen supporting characters can be useful in fleshing out a story’s cast.

The last section presents an overview of the mythic journeys, both feminine and masculine. Of course, given the book’s focus, the journey as plot isn’t developed as thoroughly as the characters that go on the journey, but this section provides an acceptable introduction to the concept. There are plenty of books on the journey structure if you need more information than is provided here. Of course, if you’re writing the feminine journey, there is less material out there for you, so this might well be the best you can find. An appendix provides some helpful worksheets for constructing the journeys using the three-act structure.

The book has its flaws. Chief among them is the screenwriter’s perspective. Although lip service is paid to fiction, most of the examples are drawn from film and television rather than literature. Often, the film version of a story is privileged over the book. For example, Cora in The Postman Always Rings Twice is cited as an example of the Femme Fatale, but it’s the movie version of Cora, not the book, that Schmidt is talking about. The screenwriter’s perspective, with its emphasis of what can be shown on screen, is also evident in the section on "Working with an Archetypes." The first thing Schmidt suggests that you do when creating a character is to picture what the character looks like, including her body type and style of dress. The character’s personality and motivations are a runner-up.

The book is also plagued with numerous instances of awkward writing such as this one: "The male hero was just learning to descend on his inner journey, and it would take him much later to do it." The quality of writing is uneven throughout, and the book is also rife with clich├ęs, like this one in the description of the Ares archetype: "He lives on eggshells, as if everyone were out to get him. He’s like a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off."

The book is not without strengths, or I wouldn’t have bothered to tell you about it. The information on each archetype is very valuable. Even if you’re not consciously using the mythic journey as a plot structure, thinking about your characters in terms of these archetypes can give you ideas you might not have thought of otherwise. And Schmidt provides plenty of good advice for thinking deeply about character motivation, fears, and concerns.

45 Master Characters
isn’t a must-have book, but for the writer who is struggling to develop larger-than-life characters or wants an introduction to the hero’s journey that covers feminine and masculine archetypes, it is worth checking out.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vicki Taylor talks dialogue

Vicki Taylor, one of FWA's founding members, presented a workshop on dialogue on July 9. (My deepest apologies for reviewing this so late! I will add a picture later.) Reading from several of her works, she demonstrated the use of dialogue in moving a story forward and adding tension. At the end of her presentation everyone was asked to write a piece of dialogue, and many shared what they had written. She offered 2 of her books as door prizes to conclude the evening.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Anhinga: It's a Wrap!

Wow, what an exciting final day! I spent 2 sessions with Victor Bockris, a very interesting character. His first session dealt with minimalist poetry, and I don't think anyone was successful in generating a poem he thought met the criteria. His later session involved human speech, and he recorded and played back our readings, which is something I'd recommend to everyone, to see how your work sounds. It's a step up from reading out loud, as you can listen after the fact to see how it really sounds!

Several panels filled out the day, another one with Anne Hawkins, the literary agent, and the author-agent relationship (Mary Anna Evans is one of her clients) with Mary Anna, also. Publishing contracts were reviewed in the other panel presented by the 3 ladies who make up the Anhinga Writers.

Hopefully we'll see some new faces in the coming months. I met several from St. Petersburg and hope they find time to join us for our meetings, and ultimately become members.

See you soon!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Anhinga: The Third Day

DO YOUR HOMEWORK! I can't tell you how many times I heard that remark during this workshop/conference. Anne Hawkins, (left) a literary agent, gave some excellent advice on finding an agent, querying an agent, and working with an agent. I'll be updating our web blog with more sections for publishing based on what I heard from Mary Anna Evans and Anne, and several others.

Peter Meinke is a gem! Our very own laureate had some great advice, which I've passed on periodically. Poetry can strengthen your prose. Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner all wrote poems, as have Oates and Updyke. Rhythm, imagery, and sound--elements of poetry, can help you in your writing. (It also works the other way, for those of you who are poets!)

Finally, returning to the publishing and marketing side, it's important to realize that the process should not be traveled in a serial fashion, performing one step at a time (book, synopsis, query letter, get agent, come up with marketing plan, etc.), but rather simultaneously. While you are writing you should be preparing your synopsis, a query letter, a marketing plan--I know, it seems overwhelming to me, too. But it makes sense, if you don't want the whole thing to stretch out for decades! (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration.)

Another great day topped off by a dinner with new friends from Columbus Ohio, Ocala, Sarasota and High Springs. More great news to share at the next meeting!

Tomorrow's a wrap,

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Anhinga: The Second Day

Great second day to the workshop. Listened to Rick Campbell, who heads up Anhinga Press, which publishes poetry, analyze some poems. He shied away from having us write anything, which disappointed me. But I learned a lot from what he showed us in his analysis (of his and others' poetry). Plus his sense of humor was fantastic.

I then attended Roxanne St. Claire's class on plotting and pacing. That was enjoyable and she brough along a 'plot board' to demonstrate how she works on her books. This reminded me of Julie Czerneda at Necronomicon last year, who uses a similar technique. She reviewed things that killed pacing, plus several standard plot outlines.

The big event for the day was the conversation with Charlaine Harris, which attracted a crowd of almost 200 (about double the number of workshop attendees). Once the fans started asking about their favorite characters I decided to leave, as I don't have cable tv and so am not familiar with her stories.

I'll take some pictures tomorrow and post them. I think this is more a conference than a workshop, unless you were in one specific fiction track, but I've learned a lot from some of the people here, and have met some good people, too. Peter Meinke, the poet laureate of St. Pete, is a warm and wonderful person. I'll hear more from him tomorrow, and am looking forward to that. The editors panel was insightful, even with some very rookie questions being thrown at the four editors/publishers on stage. Three of the four were literary; I'll bring back information on the fourth, a small independent publisher in High Springs who is expanding from Romance into all genres, and was publishing about 25 books a year but is hoping to double that this year (or go higher).


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Anhinga: The First Day

Okay, here's an example of a new gadget I'm using that I hope will improve my 'saves' of workshop and conference information. It's called a digital notepad, and I can show it at the next meeting if anyone is interested. (Though not to interfere with the presenter.) I write the notes down and they are saved electronically, and I then upload them to my computer. Here's my first page from today, to give you an idea of what it looks like. (I can save in several formats, I chose jpeg for this one to be able to upload it here.) It's blurry here but in pdf and at larger size it's clearer.

A short day, starting with registration at 1pm or, for most people, pick up your packet time. I did stop by early and met April Fitzgerald, the FWA leader in Gainesville who is a fantastic person. I've seen several other FWA members here (from around Florida) in addition to April. Total attendance I would estimate at roughly 100.

The initial panel consisted of the three ladies in charge, and they spoke about how they lived the writing life. Very different styles from each of them, which should tell you that there's no one way to write, so be wary of those who want you to conform to one view of successful writing.

I'm attending mostly for the poetry, as I hope to have a collection published next year (I won't have finished the last poem probably until December). The 'name' that got me here is Peter Meinke, the poet laureate of St. Petersburg. My first workshop, however, was with Lola Haskins, who has 8 books on poetry published and teaches in a low residency MFA program and is also a writing coach. What I found interesting was the manner in which she built her poems, which she calls 'Streamlining,' and a technique she sometimes uses where she writes the poem out in a single line, finding that by the end of the line the ending will sometimes suggest itself.

Several attendees told me about Bev's workshop, which she'll be doing for us in November, and from the excitement they displayed I know it will be a good one.

There was a mixer in the evening which included the guest of honor, Charlaine Harris. Though I didn't get to talk with her, I did meet Roxanne St. Clair, a romance writer from Melbourne. Her 23rd and 24th books are coming out this year! Another great person, who was a bit chagrined that I wasn't attending any of her workshops, which she said were not just about romance, but writing in general. Okay, maybe I will jump tracks a bit here!

After the mixer we were treated to a ride to the historic district where restaurants awaited. I'm finding more people who have been here before, and I think that speaks to the quality of the workshop.

Looking forward to tomorrow,

Blogging from Anhinga Workshop - before the start

Hi all!

I'm going to blog from the Anhinga Writers Workshop this week, and hope you will follow along and ask any questions if you want me to find out more. Registration begins in about an hour and a half, but I've already met the 3 ladies who are running it, Bev Browning, (who visited us in May), Mary Anna Evans, and Diana Tonnessen. As I find at all these things, everyone is very nice and welcoming.

While I ate an early lunch, several people sitting nearby came up to introduce themselves. They are from Tennessee and are returning for the workshop a second time. (Maybe more, but they mentioned they were here last year, when it was under the Rawlings title.)

I'll set up the FWA room shortly and make sure all the supplies are there. I brought some extras in case of need or if something wasn't ready when Chrissy sent them.

I'm really excited about this, and can't stress enough how valuable it is to get to a workshop to help strengthen your writing skills and expand your contact list. I know it's difficult, especially during this economic downturn, but later I'll put together a list of the opportunities in our state, as that can reduce travel expenses. That's why the Margie Lawson workshop just prior to the state FWA conference in the fall is so valuable. It's short (1 day), cheap ($50 member price), and will be packed with great information. (Ask Sam - he can vouch for it!)

Okay, stay tuned, I'll begin posting in the evening after each day's work is complete.

Keep writing and dreaming!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Don't Murder Your Mystery, Don't Sabotage Your Submission

Roerden, Chris. Don’t Murder Your Mystery. Bella Rosa Books, 2006. Don’t Sabotage Your Submission. Bella Rosa Books, 2008.

This month, I look at two editions of the same book. Don’t Murder Your Mystery won the Agatha Award for best nonfiction book of 2006 and has been a finalist for the Macavity Award, the Anthony Award, and, under its new title, Don't Sabotage Your Submission was a finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year award. Writing professors use these books in their classrooms. Award-winning authors swear by Ms. Roerden’s advice. Best-seller Charlaine Harris recommends them. With credentials and kudos like those, I almost don’t need to write a review at all.

Why the two titles? Don’t Murder Your Mystery was written specifically for mystery authors, and its sample passages are drawn from mystery novels. Roerden broadened her focus when she updated the book; passages are now drawn from a variety of genres including mystery, romance, and thrillers. The changed focus demanded a new title. Because Sabotage is essentially a new edition of Murder, this review treats them as the same book.

The book is divided into ten “Parts," which are further divided into chapters. Part One covers the various players in the writing business—screeners (those who read your manuscript before it ever gets to an editor or agent), agents, publishers—and you, the writer. Roerden discusses motivations for each—what makes a screener stop reading, what forces drive the decisions of agents and editors, and why writers write. Part Two introduces the art of self-editing. The remaining eight Parts cover various categories of manuscript problems. Roerden explains how “First Offenders” like bad opening hooks and tension-killing prologues can strangle your story in it opening pages. “Killing Time” covers errors in pacing, and so on.

In each chapter, Roerden provides a diagnosis of a specific problem and suggestions for how to correct it. Over 200 examples from published novels illustrate effective use of the techniques she teaches. To make the examples clearer, she frequently takes a good passage and makes it bad, then discusses exactly why her version is worse than the original.

I found the book to be incredibly painful to read. Not because Roerden’s writing is anything but readable, not because the examples are anything but illuminating, but because as I read each chapter, I discovered new reasons why agents reject my manuscript after a partial read. With the exception of the chapter on Prologues and the one on shifting point of view, there wasn’t a mistake that I hadn’t made. The good news, of course, is that all of these mistakes can be corrected and thanks to Chris Roerden, now I know how to do it.

Whether you have written a mystery, a romance, or some other genre, or a literary novel, Chris Roerden’s book can help you improve a lackluster manuscript into something that will catch the eye of agents and editors.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Author Kathy Nappier talks Internet Publishing

Last week, as you may know, our leader John Rehg was not present at the beginning of the meeting. He was at his daughter’s wedding rehearsal, so I was delegated to lead the meeting. He did manage to come in at the end of the meeting. Just in time to take a few pictures for us. Thanks John!

I became a member in January and quickly recognized I wanted to be a part of this group. I asked John to allow me to help when needed and he has held up to this request.

Our speaker for the evening was Kathy Nappier and her topic for the evening was internet publishing aka epublishing or print on demand. Kathy has authored several books including Full Wolf Moon and Voyagers, and coming in fall 2009, Bitten.

E-publishing aka internet publishing is when an author uses a print on demand company, such as Lightning Source, Inc or CreateSpace to help produce the book.

Kathy talked about how there is a stigma on epublishing; however, the stigma does not have to stop you from using this form of publishing.

As many of you know, the publishing industry is dealing with layoffs and cut backs like many other industries. This does not have to deter your writing dreams. As Kathy mentioned, you may need to be more strategic in your marketing and promoting efforts.

The decision to go with print on demand or traditional publishing is one left to each individual. The more important part of publishing your book is to know your market and then promote your book.

By using internet publishing, you are able to bypass wondering if your book will get published because you are the one holding the reins on the publishing rope. Take your time and be sure your book sticks with high quality. Have your book edited and formatted properly. Some of the internet publishing companies offer these services for additional fees.

She went on to talk about a few places she frequents in order to keep an eye on the comings and goings in the writing and publishing industry; such as and preditors and . The links to these sites are located in the right sidebar.

Get acquainted with the local writing environment. You are a member of FWA and it provides opportunities; however, there are others too. Kathy mentioned the Locus List (resource link is below). Locus online provides listings of conventions for the year. Great resource for those looking for places to be seen with your books. Again, it is best to check out the pricing and pros and cons of each convention.

She talked about going to conferences such as Necronomicon and our own FWA conference as a great way to meet people in the industry and places to sell your book.

She also gave a few tips when going to conferences:

*Try to have a new release each time you go to a conference. Even a short story is better then nothing. You want to have something fresh to show fellow writers, agents and/or publishers to show you are actively writing.

*Try and find someone to “buddy” up with and share the costs of the display table, hotel and car rental.

There are online conferences and forums in which to participate to spread the word about your book. Here are a few she (and I) mentioned at the meeting:

The Muse Online Writers Conference (

Writers Mafia (

Book Market (

Scribophile (

Locus Online (

Kathy also mentioned some of the other epublishers (or print on demand) such as:

Lulu (

Lightning Source (

Create Space (

Book Surge (

Now with these print on demand companies there are different restrictions on layout, start up fees, copyright, and royalties. You need to be sure and do your research on each of them before using any of them for publishing your book.

Personal Note:

I truly enjoy coming to these meetings each month and plan on being a member of FWA for a long time. Thank you from me to you for welcoming me with open arms and warm hearts. I appreciate it.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Tampa Writers Alliance 2009 Writing Contest Open

The Tampa Writers Alliance annual writing contest is now open (as of June 1) and closes on Oct 1. This is a great opportunity for any writer with unpublished work, as they award cash prizes! I've included a link on the right under Contests and Submissions.

I met Paul DuBose, their treasurer, at the April picnic in Largo, and he attended our June general meeting. Another one of the 3 major areas of writing (according to many) is making contacts. In addition to attending meetings and meeting people, entering local contests is another excellent way to get your name out there. Going to other groups' meetings is another way. TWA meets at the same location as the FWA Hillsborough group (Barnes and Noble in Carrollwood). I encourage all those who have the opportunity to stop in once in awhile at another meeting to get to know other writers in the area.

You never know who you'll meet!


Monday, June 8, 2009

Lessons for Success

Morrell, David. The Successful Novelist. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2008

A high-priority project at work leached time and energy from the rest of my life beginning in February. That included writing, which is why I haven’t posted a review in months. The project is over now, the product has been released, and the forecast for the rest of the year calls for less of that kind of madness. My goal for the rest of the year is to bring you a new review on the second Monday of every month. This month, it’s David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist, originally published as Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at his Craft.

Thriller writer David Morrell is the author of over two dozen books including a new novel, The Shimmer, that will be released in July. His novels have been the basis for feature films (the Rambo franchise was derived from his 1972 novel First Blood) and television (Brotherhood of the Rose, also being made into a feature film to be released next year). Morrell earned his Ph.D. in American Literature at Penn State and taught at the University of Iowa until 1986.

Morrell distills his experience as a best-selling novelist and a gifted teacher into The Successful Novelist, which reads like a Master’s degree program in writing popular fiction. That’s not to say that the book is dense or filled with the impenetrable jargon common to academic writing--far from it. It is very readable, almost conversational in tone. It’s the kind of book you can read straight through and then come back to focus on the specific area you want to study.

Morrell gives the book its graduate program feel by calling each chapter a "Lesson" and bracketing the lessons with the prologue "First Day of Class" and epilogue, "Last Day of Class." The lessons cover the topics you’d expect a book on writing to handle: plot, character, description, and dialog. But Morrell also shares his wisdom on research, dealing with writer’s block, the business of writing, and even dealing with Hollywood in "Lesson Fourteen: Rambo and the Movies."
You can’t help but come away from this book with a fresh understanding of the craft of writing and your own motivations in pursuing it. It’s one of the most helpful books on writing that I’ve come across.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

James O'Neal Book Signing

Hi all!

Just a quick review of James O'Neal's book signing at Haslam's on Thursday. I went for two reasons. One, I was on vacation for my daughter's high school graduation, and she took an afternoon nap because she was exhausted from the excitement and early ceremony! So I had a window of time. Second, the author is more commonly known as James O. Born, mystery writer and one of the keynote speakers at our October conference. I wanted to meet him before the conference. Wait, there's a third reason. I haven't been to many book signings in the past. Actually probably none. So I wanted to see how it went. You know, for when I get to do one! (As most of us will, right? Right???)

Anyway, I also got to meet Ray, who I think is the owner of Haslam's. He's a really nice guy. His son was there, too, though I didn't personally meet him. But if you are going to sign books at a place, it helps to know the owner! (At least, I think it does.) Also, Haslam's is independent, and I like to support our independent booksellers.

I know what Jim will talk about at the FWA conference (sorry, can't reveal it!), and learned some interesting things about his work, his publishers, his agent. He's very friendly and I know that if you go to the conference in October, you're sure to enjoy his speech.

I also saw two other FWA members, one who has been out of town since, well, forever, to me. She was one of our winners in last year's RPLA contest, and it was great to meet her, too. Jackie Minniti is her name, and I'll be sending her some information for the newspaper she works for. The other, Vicki Morgan, (one of our newer members who has been writing for quite awhile and is also a member of PINAWOR), brought along a friend, Kathy, who does 'artistic expression' if I recall correctly. This involves writing, painting, music. They have a group that meets monthly and she mentioned there are several writers in it. I told her that might make a neat topic for one of our meetings, as it sounded like it could help stimulate creativity and imagination. I hope to hear from her soon.

Back to Ray, the Haslam's guy. He doesn't do presentations any more, but would be open to a Q&A session, informal. I then wondered, what if we had a panel of independent booksellers? Would you like to pepper them with questions? (I won't try to come up with a sentence with salt in it!) Might make another interesting topic for the future. Sometimes I wish we could meet more often, as there are so many interesting things to learn!

Speaking of learning, I picked up Kaplan's Revision. (A book on revising and editing, naturally.) I had heard it recommended, I believe by our August speaker, Lorin Oberweger (editor and sponsor of the Donald Maass workshops), or by Donald Maass himself, I don't remember. (But don't mind dropping names!!!) If you follow the link I put for the book, you'll find an opportunity to get published (no payment) in the short literary fiction and crime/noir genre. The editor includes brief reviews of five books on editing, including The First 5 Pages, which I have and is one of my favorites.

Happy writing!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rick Wilber Elucidates Mystery Techniques

Dr. Rick Wilber, USF mass communications professor and author of several novels and numerous short stories, enlightened an audience of 28 at our new location on May 14, despite a passing, raucous thunderstorm. Rick covered topics that included building characters and being aware of the layers of meaning in text and subtext--the Iceberg principle where most meaning is hidden below the surface.

Dr. Wilber read from his forthcoming mystery novel, Rum Point, highlighting examples of choosing the important two percent of a character's description that should be included in the story. In detailing this specificity, two rules apply: 1) if it doesn't matter to the story, don't say it; and 2) it has to move either your character or your story forward.

He also mentioned that for new genre writers following the parameters of the genre are key to getting published, in addition to telling a story worth telling to someone else.

Rick kept everyone interested, laughing and questioning as he covered some of his own experiences in getting published.

Thank you to everyone who attended!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In 30 seconds

When you think about writing, do you smile from the inside out? Well, I do. As writers, I am sure the question gets a yes answer from you too.

However, do you have times when you think about writing and even though the idea makes you very happy, as soon as the thought enters your mind, a flood of "reasons" why you shouldn't enters too?

Think about why these reasons are coming up because in less than 30 seconds you could be allowing yourself to push away the one thing you really were put on this earth to do---write.

This happened to me this morning when I was thinking about the children's books my daughter and I want to write. I had started thinking about how the story could be arranged and BAM! within 30 seconds a flood of questions came in filling my mind, "Do you have time to really do this?", "Even if you get done, how are you going to get it published", "You will need to find an illustrator and that is going to cost money."

I started to think why bother---but then I stopped myself and said to myself, "Because I have wanted to be a writer for a very long time and every time I think about writing, it makes me really happy."

So I want to encourage my fellow writers to not listen to the 30 seconds of "reasons" not to write from stopping you from doing one of the things that makes you the most happy.

Continue writing. The other stuff will work itself out.

Your fellow writer,

Teresa Morrow

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Diane Marcou Addresses Largest Crowd

Diane Marcou, ghostwriter, collaborator and memoirist enlightened the largest crowd of the year at Thursday’s general meeting on April 9th. She handled questions during her presentation, covering fine points and her unique perspective on writing a memoir, and read from several books she has in print or in production. Diane covered the gamut of topics from her experiences in editing and working with others in producing a story that is both entertaining and personal.

Attendance reached 31, our highest total so far this year, at the last meeting at the Main library before it undergoes renovations. From May through August we will hold meetings at the North branch of the library. Details will follow shortly.

-- John

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Got Stuck? Ideas to help get unstuck

Writing for me creates an escape. A kind of hide away where words dance joyfully in my head. I know it may sound a bit silly, but writing stimulates joy in me. Well, most of the time. Except when I get stuck and have trouble thinking of the next thing to write.

I am sure you have found yourself getting stuck and not knowing where the next scene is going or what your character may do next.

Here are a few things I thought may help the next time you get stuck:

Think about the reason why you started writing. Put yourself in the place of joy and happiness and start writing about how you are feeling. Pull in everything you are receiving from your senses and write it down.

Take time to refocus. You may be focusing on being stuck and not focusing on the possibilities of where your story can go to next. You can create a new story. Think about what you would be doing if you weren't stuck. Concentrate on the character's reaction to being in a hard position and how they would get out of it.

Move around. Change the scenery. Go for a walk. Put on some music and dance. Exercise. You could just be in the same place for too long and if you move and have new things to see, smell and interact with, it could possible allow you to move forward with your story.

I hope these help when you get stuck with your writing.

Do you have strategies, ideas or suggestions you have done when you have gotten stuck with your writing?
If so, please feel free to share them with us. Let's help each other keep writing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New addition to site

Hi all!

We've added a new section to our blog called Getting Published Without Getting Taken. We will add to it as more links are received. Use this section to check out agents and publishers before making a deal that could cost you money. Personally, I write because I have to, to express what's inside. If I never get published, that wouldn't stop me from writing. However, the thrill of being in print motivates me to write the best I can, to be critiqued, to edit and revise, and to avoid the urge to just get something printed as fast as I can, no matter the cost. I'm sure you've read of all the rejections famous writers have received before their first publication. It will be a while before I give up and go the self-published route in the areas where that route is not the best (fiction, especially).

Let me know what you think of this section, what additional links we can post here, and what else you'd like to see on the blog. It's here for your benefit. Thanks for inspiring me to continue this journey.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Molli Marks Up the First Page

Publishing consultant Molli Nickell reviewed first pages, spoke on the state of the publishing industry and encouraged a captive audience to review their use of adjectives, adverbs and weak verbs in order to polish the first page (and others, as well) of their manuscript. She emphasized the need to grab attention, mentioning that most editors know within six or seven sentences if you are a writer. She also remarked that Times Roman is the new font standard, and cautioned against fudging on double-spacing to get more lines on the first page.

Though focused on fiction, Molli included advice for the non-fiction writer and reviewed several non-fiction works.

She concluded by mentioning four books that she has found very useful for the writer:
1. How to Write a Book Proposal - by Michael Larson (good for non-fiction, especially)
2. What's Your Story? - by Marion Dane Bauer (good overall plus for young writers - fiction)
3. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook - by Donald Maass
4. The First Five Pages - by Noah Lukeman

You can read Sam's review of the third book, by Maass, on an earlier posting on this blog and I can second the motion that the fourth book is valuable, as I've read it and learned a lot.

UPDATE: Molli will return in October to review your synopsis!

Monday, March 2, 2009

On Conferences

I have returned from Sleuthfest 2009, tired but happy. I've already written about my experience at Sleuthfest on my personal blog. Short version: Wow. I met wonderful people ranging from beginners to best-selling authors. I attended fantastic panels and sessions where I picked up dozens of tips on craft. And I came back energized and encouraged, ready to write and now regretting that I must sleep--I'd rather be awake and writing.

Because I've been busy preparing for and then attending the conference, I don't have a book review for you this month. I do want to take this opportunity to plug not only Sleuthfest but conferences in general.

If you write genre fiction, a writer's conference for that genre is an excellent way to network with other writers in your field. From those who have only recently realized that they want to write on up to best-selling superstars, you'll make contacts who will help you--and be helped by you--throughout your writing career. Panels and lectures covering topics specific to your genre will provide you with information you didn't even realize you needed to know, and of course there will be craft-oriented sessions as well. In addition, most conferences off opportunities to meet directly with agents and editors.

If you don't write genre fiction, or write non-fiction, look for general writer's conferences. You'll get the same chances to pitch your work directly agents and editors, panels and lectures that will help you improve your craft, and the chance to network with other writers. There's nothing like spending several days among a crowd of people who value writing as much as you do. It will energize and inspire you.

Regardless of the path you plan to take in your writing career, attending a conference has benefits that far outweigh the costs. The FWA conference is scheduled for October 23-25 this year. Plan to attend. You won't regret it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

E Sabin Enlightens all on Editing

Elenora Sabin presented tips and techniques on revising and editing your work last Thursday, the 12th, to an enthusiastic audience. Using her own personal experience as a base, Elenora touched on sentence structure, using all the senses and working to get your final manuscript to match your original vision. She answered many questions about content and mechanics and included several handouts to take home; in addition, she shared some steps she takes to make her revision process go smoothly and help her editor when it's time to prepare the work for publishing.

We tried out a new seating arrangement, requested by members and inspired by PINAWOR, with tables set up in a rectangle. This worked very well and I received thanks for setting it up, but I confess it was set up about that way when I got there, and I only had to make a few minor adjustments. If the tables are not set up like that, it would take a lot of work to put them up. I usually try to get to the library around 5 p.m. for setup, and if anyone else can make it by that time it would help in getting the room setup like that every time. (hint, hint)

Again, a warm thank you to Elenora for sharing her experience and expertise. I know several of our members are also members of PINAWOR, and I would encourage those who can to join that group also. They hold some low cost workshops several times a year. Also, if you can't find the time to join a critique group, they do critiques most Saturdays (5 min reading - members only).


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Writing the Breakout Novel

Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel. Writer's Digest Books, 2001.
Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Writer's Digest Books, 2004.

Do you dream of making a living as a novelist, or at least of writing that one smash-hit best seller? Well, forget it. You can’t. That’s the tone many books, web sites, and magazines take. It’s easy to come away feeling that agents don’t want to represent you and that even if one does, no editor will select your manuscript and that even if one does, the publisher will refuse to promote you. It’s a matter of pure chance who gets onto the bestseller list, anyway. Donald Maass says that’s all nonsense.

Breakout novels are books that "vault onto the best-seller lists," and the premise of Writing the Breakout Novel is that, "Breakout novels can be planned." Maass is honest about the long odds that novelists face but he counters honesty with hope: in spite of the lack of advertising and publisher support for most books, word of mouth is "the engine that drives breakouts." He promises that "Virtually all writers can write a breakout novel." He provides eleven chapters of helpful, encouraging advice coupled with analysis of existing breakout novels to help you do exactly that.

The foundation of a breakout novel is its premise. Using several famous novels, Maass identifies depth of setting; unforgettable characters; and unusual, dramatic, and meaningful events as key components of breakout premises. He examines breakout premises in terms of plausibility, inherent conflict, originality, and gut emotional appeal. Finally, he demonstrates how a breakout premise can be developed with a concrete example so compelling that you’ll wish you could find it on a bookstore shelf.

The premise is the foundation on which the other components of a breakout novel are built. Maass explains how to create larger than life characters whom readers will identify with and cheer for, how to select settings that affect the psychology of the novel, and how to weave compelling conflict into every page. He comes nearly full-circle with a discussion of theme. Like a premise, theme is a unifying force that winds through all the novel’s elements, but it does much more than that. It gives the story meaning. If that intimidating thought makes your stomach clench, don’t worry--Maas tells you how to build your theme, step-by-step.

Each chapter ends with a checklist of its most important points, which makes later review easy. He closes with advice on dealing with the publishing industry once you’ve got a finished, polished manuscript. The advice is still relatively current--the book was published in 2001--and is a good start. This is a book you’ll want close at hand whenever you are planning a novel.

But what if you’ve already got a manuscript, either finished or in progress? That’s where the companion Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook comes in. Frequently, workbook companions for how-to books are gimmicks that extract a few extra dollars from readers of the original book without providing new value. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is not that kind of workbook.

Where Writing the Breakout Novel helps you plan your novel, the Workbook provides exercises targeted at improving an existing manuscript. Sometimes you're directed to pick a random place in your manuscript. Other exercises ask you to select a central aspect of character, plot, setting, or theme. In each case, Maass prescribes multiple exercises for working with that portion of your novel. You’ll heighten or diminish turning points, change a character's motivation for a single scene, and deepen exposition without bogging the reader down. As you work through the exercises, you’ll recognize how to apply them to other areas of your manuscript, working toward one goal: producing a dynamic novel with breakout potential.

Whenever I feel absolutely miserable about my chances of becoming a published novelist, much less ever making a living at the craft, I turn to Donald Maass for encouragement and advice. These books inspire me to take control of my writing destiny. They deserve a place on every novelist’s bookshelf.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bringing up Bobby

Many of you may remember "Bringing up Bobby," the short story I brought to last year's critique workshop meeting. This morning, I received an email from The Absent Willow Review accepting it for publication in their April 16 issue. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and encouragement!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Roy Peter Clark Touts Tools on T'ursday

Dr. Roy Peter Clark discussed several of the writing tools from his book to an enthusiastic audience of 25. Reading two of his own earlier journalistic pieces evoked poignant memories from several members. Roy used an example for in-depth evaluation of tool #2: Order words for emphasis, and used the same story to explain other tools when asked for clarification of specific strategies.

He also spoke about his City of Writers project, an idea that is still building, that celebrates and promotes those involved in writing and encourages others to participate. FWA is happy to work with him in any way we can to support this idea.

I had hoped he would use music in his presentation, but we found that the piano in the library auditorium is not owned by the library, and apparently can only be touched by the tuner of said instrument. Strange indeed.

I look forward to seeing you at next month's meeting, and thank those who were able to attend our first meeting of 2009.


Monday, January 5, 2009

The Creative Habit

Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life. Simon & Schuster, 2003.

I was tipped off to this book by a post on thriller writer Jeff Abbott's blog. His organized writer posts are full of tips on writing discipline, advice for other writers, and encouragement for pursuing creative dreams. In one of these posts, he mentions Twyla Tharp's book on creativity, The Creative Habit. Although Ms. Tharp is an Emmy and Tony award winning dancer and choreographer, the book isn't limited to dance. Of course it is written from a dancer's perspective, but Tharp has a broader understanding of creativity that makes this book worth reading for any artist.

Tharp dismisses the idea that good art is the result of a muse whispering in someone's ear, independent of skill or practice. Instead, she argues that artistic creativity come from hard work. "Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits." Mozart, for example, practiced and worked so hard at creating music that his fingers were deformed by the time he was twenty eight. That's a far cry from the popular belief that he was simply a prodigy whose success was the result of "God whispering in his ear."

In each chapter, Tharp identifies one aspect of making creativity a habit. Several chapters have to do with generating and developing ideas--through daily rituals that put you in a creative frame of mind, by exploring your background and personality (what she calls "Creative DNA"), or by harnessing your memories. She also discusses organization (and how not to over-organize) and overcoming the accidents and obstacles that occur during the creative process. And of course, she urges all creative types to practice, practice, practice, the fundamentals of their craft.

If the book has a flaw, it's that sometimes she goes overboard with examples. About half way through the book, I realized that once I'd gotten her point in each chapter, I could skip the rest of the material because it wouldn't add anything new. However, that's a minor complaint.

The most valuable thing about the book is that at the end of each chapter, Ms. Tharp provides a handful of exercises that specifically address the issues in that chapter. They aren't specific to dance, and many are clearly valuable to writers. You could do worse than to pick up this book and simply do the exercises without reading the rest.

On the other hand, the rest is kind of fun, too, and some of Ms. Tharp's stories about how she works are fascinating in their own right. This is a book well worth picking up.