Bubbling Up

bubbles with grass in backgroundSometimes we don’t know what to write even though we’ve made a commitment to write every day. What then?

 There are many writing prompt books, such as Judy Reeves’, A Writer’s Book of Days. These are helpful to get started, but if you can’t get your hands on one of these, don’t fret. There is a meditation trick you can try. By employing this trick, you will meet both your commitment to meditate and your commitment to write. Win win.

 Often on a meditation retreat, the facilitator will start by asking the group to do a short exercise to find our intention for the retreat. As we begin, the facilitator will guide us to the calm within. Then, without “thinking” about it, we are invited to allow our intention for the retreat to bubble up from within.  Like a cat watching a mouse hole, we watch and see what word or phrase spontaneously reveals itself from the unconscious. This word is the prime that we will work with, that we will refine, that we will spend the rest of the retreat investigating.

At my latest retreat, I heard the word “acceptance” come up. I took the word to my room and began writing about it. As I wrote, I discovered that the word “acceptance” carried some baggage with it.  It felt depressing to just “accept” life as it was. There was no juice in it. My pen kept moving, and I found myself writing that I was interested in something much broader than acceptance.  I didn’t want to accept life as it was, I wanted to “fall in love” with it, exactly as it was—messy chaos and all.  In a blink, I wrote my true intention and saw it also as the title of my next book: “Enlivenment: The Art of Living Imperfectly but with Great Delight.” I spent the rest of the retreat examining the concept of delight.

 And this, this is what a great writing prompt will do for you. It will free your mind and allow you to get to the heart of the matter.

 Below is a short guided audio clip you can listen to, to allow your own writing prompt to bubble up from within. Have a journal, pen, and timer handy. Allow for five minutes of sitting and five minutes of stream of consciousness writing.  What wants to be told? What themes are inviting your attention today? How might these themes inform whatever project you are working on?


Written guidelines:

  • Set a timer for five minutes. Have your pen and journal handy. Start by closing your eyes and taking a couple of long slow breaths through your nose to center yourself.
  • After a few breaths, start to count your breaths on the exhale deliberately until you get to ten. If you notice that you’ve gone off on a train of thought, gently bring your attention back to the breath and continue.
  • Once you’ve reached ten, let the focus on the breath go and bring your attention to your bodily sensations. Notice the feeling of the ground or chair beneath you; notice any discomfort anywhere.  Pay close attention to what it feels like: prickling, heavy, tight, etc.  Scan your body for tension.  Are your shoulders hunched?  Is your jaw tight? Gently relax any physical tensions and repeat silently to yourself, “I release any tension, any pressure, any thoughts, any desires.” Bring your attention back to the breath.
  • Now, allow a word or phrase—any word or phrase—to bubble up without effort.  Simply take notice of the first word or phrase that pops up, and then bring your attention back to your breath.  (Don’t pay attention to the voices saying that you need to find the “right” word or that you need to think of something related to what you’re already working on. If nothing bubbles up, use “nothingness” as your prompt.)
  • When the timer goes off, bring your hands into prayer position and bow, honoring yourself for keeping this commitment.
  • Jot down your word or phrase. Set a timer for five minutes and write down your stream of consciousness until the timer goes off.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/search/bubbles?photo=8CCQ-55MTUw


So You Wanna Write for The Feisty Writer. What’s Next?

The Feisty Writer Logo a Hand Holding a PenAh, jeez, thanks for your interest! We’re thrilled you love our site and want to join our roster of talented and spunky writers. As we approach our one-year anniversary, we’re looking for even more unique voices that offer fresh and original insights on writing and the writer’s life.

Is that right up your alley? Are you already feisty by nature? Great! Please look over our guest blogger guidelines below and then send in your submission. Best of luck and thanks again for your interest.

The Feisty Writer Guest Blogger Guidelines 

Submit blogs to The Feisty Writer Co-Editor, Tracy Jones, at tjjones1@gmail.com. You will receive a response within ten days of submitting.

Word Count: Short and sweet is best. Blogs should be at least 350 words and ideally no more than 1,000 words. If truly needed, blogs up to 1,300 words will be considered.

The Feisty Writer Voice: Of course, feisty. Punchy writing. You have something to say and aren’t afraid to shout it from the rafters. You have a distinct point of view. You’ve got something to get off your chest. You’re honest. You’re not scared to be vulnerable. You are not shy. Different is celebrated here.

The Feisty Writer Topics: Writing and the writer’s life but with a twist.

What’s the twist: your creativity and originality in how you approach writing. How to Be a Feisty Submitter—The Mustard Factor, Writing Through Trump, Establish Your Code: Navigating the Rules of Writing, Genderqueer, 5 Things My Inner Critic Says and How I Shut Her Up, Racist Bitch, Hitting the Wall, and Bring the Lover to the Bedroom are just a few of our favorite blogs.

We love informative blogs that show our readers the time, research, and love you spent in creatively organizing important information.

We live for inspiring blogs. Blogs that showcase how you overcame a writing challenge or roadblock, got to the other side, and how they can do the same thing, too. Share success stories that will have our readers dying to write.

A sense of urgency that ignites a flame under our readers’ butts, that the time is now to write, and that we’re going to be on this journey with them.

Embrace the Feisty Tribe: We want our readers to feel informed, inspired, and that they are part of a growing Feisty Writer movement. We want our readers to get to know YOU through your blog. Share your soul; let your freak flag fly. Almost any personal story, shitty experience, triumph or quiet moment can teach about writing or tell us something about the writer’s journey.

Risk, Dig Deep: This is the site where if you’re a little scared to hit submit, you’re probably on to something great. Be brave. Risk it all by being your most creative, vulnerable or opinionated self. Dare to be different.

If Accepted: We reserve the right to edit your piece including picking a new title that we feel may generate more clicks and views. You might also be set up with one of our two site editors to further edit and polish your piece. They’re experienced, easy to work with, and invested in helping our writers perfect their posts.

We will need a headshot/selfie, preferably one that showcases your personality and is more creative or fun compared to a corporate headshot. We will also need a short bio to include at the end of your blog. Again, highlight what you do in two to three sentences, and, if you can have a little fun, all the better. If you would like to add a link to your personal blog/website/Amazon page, we will happily include it.

A Note on Rejections: Due to our site’s unique voice and development of The Feisty Writer brand, not all guest blogs can be accepted. We are writers, too, and have had more than our fair share of rejection. We, too, hate rejection and understand your pain, anger or frustration if your blog isn’t right for our site. But know, it just isn’t a fit or a fit for now. And, it may be perfect for any other number of blogs out there. Please don’t let a ‘no’ from us deter your writing in any way. Keep writing, submit to other blogs, and if you have a more “feisty natured” blog in you, please resubmit!

Good Writing Advice is God-Awful Relationship Advice

A gun on the ground surrounded by bullet casingsShow, don’t tell.

Disclosing your actual thoughts to your loved ones is boring and obvious. Instead, use heavy implication to demonstrate you’re upset with someone. Rely on symbols and subtext to convey what you want. Don’t be too “on the nose”: always argue about something tangential to the thing upsetting you.

Lead with a strong image.

Got something upsetting to tell a partner? Paint a word picture that will burn itself indelibly onto their brain so years from now they will wake in the night in a cold sweat still visualizing it.

Follow the Hero’s Journey.

Regular life is boring. Remember to periodically discover your existence is a lie, embark on a quest, undergo death and resurrection, commune with the goddess, and return home forever changed. Your loved ones will appreciate this.

Start scenes late, end them early.

To skip the dull parts, conduct all conversations as follows: Show up partway through to drop some pithy one-liners, then run away immediately.

Make sure what you want and what you need actively contradict each other.

Be complex. Keep your loved ones guessing.

Escalate conflict.

If your last argument didn’t dredge up trauma from twenty years ago, you didn’t dig deep enough. For best results, wait until everyone involved is hungry, stressed, drunk, and sleep-deprived.

Focus your conflict on a single villain.

Ideally, this person will be the shadow-version of you, on whom you can project all your flaws and insecurities. Definitely, spend all your energy defeating this person.

Scenes should accomplish multiple goals.

Relationship arguments can be boring on their own, so make sure everyone involved has an unrelated but vital and concentration-dependent task to complete. Landing a plane, for instance. Or disarming a bomb. See above about being hungry, stressed, drunk, and sleep-deprived.

Utilize a ticking clock.

Everything is more exciting with life-or-death time limits.

Don’t learn your lessons until the last possible instant.

Nobody wants to see personal growth and amended behavior across an extended time period. It’s best to act like an idiot until the eleventh hour and then communicate you’ve changed with a single grand gesture.

Murder your darlings.

Need I say more?

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/firearm-revolver-bullet-gun-weapon-409252/

World-Building: Don’t Pants It! A.K.A. The Butterfly Effect

Old-fashioned photo of man with tennis racket wearing white pantsThere’s a lot of talk, especially when NaNoWriMo comes around, about “planning versus pantsing.” To put it succinctly, planning is having a solid outline before you start, while pantsing is just the opposite—writing your novel by the seat of your pants, figuring things out on the fly! Of course, most writers employ a mix of both styles, and that’s perfectly fine. But, as it relates to world-building, I’ve got some words of wisdom about pantsing it( that come from bitter experience). Don’t do it!

Last month, I was working on a novel about a beetle prince who had embarked on a quest to save his kingdom from a hive of evil wasps. Things were going great—I was producing a few thousand words per week—until I needed to put some clothes on one of the beetles (yeah, beetles wear clothes—get your mind out of the gutter). But then, I couldn’t figure out what the beetles would be wearing, in part because I hadn’t thought about the types of trees and plants that were going to be in the forest. Did the beetles weave garments from silk that they collected in the woods? Or from some kind of plant fiber? I didn’t know. So I got frustrated, panicking about what else I was unclear on, and before long, I was super depressed over my inability to figure out if the beetles would be making wine out of mulberries or raspberries. Those damn raspberries. I lost a good two weeks of work because of this, and in the end, I decided that it would be better to start over with a more wholly developed world. I buried my draft, another victim of the pants.

A poorly-planned world can have a butterfly effect on your novel. It’s okay to pants it when it comes to certain events in the story, like how you might suddenly decide that, even though your character just killed the giant hydra, she still needs to work out some internal stuff about how she was abandoned by her father as she recuperates at the goblin chieftain’s hut. That’s helpful—your pantsing just added another layer to your story. But world-building works the opposite way. If you’ve just decided that the goblins in your story eat rat stew every night and you know your character hates rats, you’re going to have to stop and go back to the first time she stayed at the goblin village and re-address it. Retroactively making these changes will make you want to pull your hair out during editing, and that should be the least of your concerns. Like what happened to me, you could end up missing significant details that are too crucial to overlook, and no writer wants to have to stop in the middle of a good writing flow to figure this stuff out. Yeah, it happens, but it’s a quagmire that’s best avoided.

You’re not going to think of every detail in your initial world-building. But, the more you nail down, the fewer headaches you’ll have when you’re writing. Allow yourself to dream before you start writing. I’ve got some tips on dreaming, so check back next time.

Photo credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/142743323579

Stop Writin’ Solo: Why You Should Have a Critique Group

Group photo of people working on a shipWhen you hear the word “critique,” the next word that probably comes to mind is “criticism” (“constructive” not even a close second). Am I right?

 I get it—no matter what the field, being critiqued in any capacity exposes your vulnerability. But with all the grammar rules, generic conventions, and heaps of writing techniques out there, a critique group is going to be your secret writing weapon—I promise!

 I spent a year writing my book alone, cherishing ever word, every sentence, and every little world-building concept I conjured. My close family members were the only people I allowed to read my work, more as a way of holding myself accountable than for real advice. 

 Even after attending a writer’s conference and hearing again and again about critique groups, I was hesitant to share my work. But the thing was, my manuscript had problems. I’d already rewritten it once, and in both drafts, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to write the ending. Something wasn’t working, and I didn’t want to admit it.

 If not for an author whom I met at the conference, I’d still be guarding my writing and sending it over email to my mom, password protected. When the author found out I didn’t have a critique group, she introduced me to two people that she thought I’d get along with who were both writing in my genre. Perhaps it’s because we all trusted her that we immediately decided to trust each other. We started an email chain the next day, and the rest is history.

 My writing has improved immensely; my stories are more coherent, and my characters more four-dimensional. I’m better at discerning the problems in my own work, and never have writer’s block for longer than a week because I can use our weekly meetings for brainstorming instead of critiquing.

 This isn’t to say you should give your work to just anyone. Here are some tips for finding a critique group that’s a good fit:

 1.      Attend a writer’s conference or local writing event to scout some potential group members. Or peruse an online writing forum and post a thread seeking interested individuals.

2.      Get to know your group members before sending them any of your writing.

3.      Ensure they are in a similar stage of writing as you (and genre, if possible).

4.      Ensure they want to help you, and not just get help for themselves.

5.      Ensure they can commit to set meeting days and times (except holidays or crazy work weeks). 

6.      Ensure they are motivated and have goals they wish to meet for their own work.

7.      Find between two and six other group members. If you only find one person, you’re delayed for a week or longer when they’re busy. With more than six people, you won’t be able to give the proper attention to each submission.

 Once you find your group, it’s time to start critiquing! Here’s how:

 1.      Decide how often you’ll meet: once a week, bi-weekly, or once a month.

2.      Decide where you’ll meet, whether in person, over the phone, or via internet communication, like Skype.

3.      Submit via email attachment, at least a day in advance of your meeting.

4.      Start by submitting outlines so each member can get acquainted with the others’ stories. Then submit chapters, select pages, or plot brainstorms.

5.      Submit as often as you can so it becomes part of your routine.

6.      You can have a standing rotation to determine who goes first, second, etc., or you can go in order of who submitted first.

Don’t get discouraged if your first attempt at assembling a critique group doesn’t work out. Try approaching this like dating—there might be a few bad ones before you find “the one(s)” who will help take your writing to the next level!

 Photo credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/150776912405

Scene and Sequel, or How I Got to Know My Protagonist Two Years into Writing the Book


Doctor looking at x-rays

A couple of years ago I wrote an adventure novel full of terror, magic, romance, derring-do, etcetera. The main character wanted things, she went out and got them, and there were consequences for her—terrible ones. I figured the faster I paced it, the more exciting it would be. I rushed from exciting event to exciting event. I thought it was great.

But my lovely writing groups (to whom I am eternally grateful) kept saying the same things: “Am I supposed to feel something here?” “Does your protagonist have an emotional reaction to this?” “She seems very … calm.”

I didn’t get it. I’d blown up this character’s life. I’d wrung her heart out. Why couldn’t they tell?

The answer was that I never paused to let her think. I thought it would bog down the pacing if she sat around having feelings or wondering what to do. Instead, her lack of downtime stripped her of personality and robbed the book of impact.

In short, I needed sequels to my scenes.

First, a note: both “scenes” and “sequels” occur during scenes, which is a murderously confusing terminology problem. For more on scene and sequel, this is the blog post that helped me understand what it was. And this one looks like an excellent in-depth discussion.

Scene and sequel is a basic (the basic?) unit of storytelling.

First, there’s a SCENE:

The protagonist pursues a goal.

A conflict mucks up her plans, and she struggles to overcome it.

She achieves success, failure, or a complication.

This is followed by a SEQUEL:

The protagonist reacts to her new situation (emotional response, action, dialogue, etc.).

The protagonist considers how the situation affects her goals. She may face a dilemma.

The protagonist formulates a new plan.

The protagonist enacts her plan, beginning another SCENE.

There are large- and small-scale versions of this. A character can enact a plan, fail, react, and adapt multiple times within a single scene, but eventually she’ll reach success, failure, or complication that stops her cold and forces her to process and recalibrate.

You won’t write out all these steps every time. Sometimes sequels are short: a well-chosen action or line of dialogue can say more than pages of introspection. (Other times, you’ll likely want the introspection.) Sometimes another catastrophe hits before your protagonist can draw breath.

But this cycle of action, consequence, feeling, and planning gives solidity to a character’s personality. Because I’d been skipping it, people didn’t know who my main character was. I didn’t know who my main character was. Once I paused to let her think, she took on reality and depth. I understood her better. The book was better.

Here’s the big lesson I learned: Events can happen to anybody. What makes characters unique is how they react.

For instance:

A man catches his wife cheating …

… He’s heartbroken. He confronts her, and they have a terrible argument.

A man catches his wife cheating …

… He snaps. He sneaks out and buys a gun.

A man catches his wife cheating …

… He’s secretly pleased. He berates her, knowing that in her guilt she’ll let him get away with anything.

A man catches his wife cheating …

… He’s happy for her. She’s seemed less stressed lately, and now he knows why. He buys her flowers.

Those are very different men.

If I left out the man’s reaction (like I did to my poor protagonist), it would erase those differences. Lacking cues, we as readers would rely on stereotypes and familiar tropes to guess how the man feels. Our guesses might differ, but they’d almost certainly be less rich and varied than the reactions of fleshed-out characters or real people. This omission would impoverish both character and story.

And I believe it would do something worse. Without scene and sequel, it’s harder to talk about characters whose emotions defy expectations. It’s harder to show readers the minds of people different from themselves.

In short, it’s harder to tell the stories no one has heard before.

And I want to hear those stories.

Photo credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/138158162774

Rising Above the Noise: What Authors Can Do to Make Themselves and Their Work Stand Out

Girl on snowy field jumping in the airIt’s a tough world for most authors. With so many books out there for readers to choose from, how can authors make themselves and their books stand out?

If you’re an author who feels stymied by a lack of exposure, here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about ways to rise above the crowd.

Share Your Enthusiasm

Passion is infectious–when someone deeply cares about something and is openly passionate about it, others can’t help but notice. In all your communications, whether it be a press release, a blog post, a Facebook post, a tweet, a comment on Goodreads to thank a reader, a panel appearance, or an individual speaking engagement–don’t be afraid to let your enthusiasm and passion for your book and its contents shine through. Let your energy channel through your voice–use strong verbs and bold adjectives in your writing, so that your readers feel the passion when they read your words. If you’re speaking, be excited, honest, and authentic–engage your audience by asking questions and answering with as much enthusiasm as you can muster. Your audience will feel your passion and respond in kind by buying your books, writing reviews, and acting as brand ambassadors for you when they help spread those all-important word-of-mouth endorsements of you and your book.

Jump on Opportunities

A former client called me this morning excited about a glowing review she recently received in the Los Angeles Times book section. She asked me how we could keep the momentum going, so we noodled on some possibilities together. The point is that getting good press isn’t the be-all and end-all for an author. You can and should use any media exposure you receive to your advantage: contact booksellers who may have passed before you got the coverage and ask them to shelve and promote your book, schedule a book tour with those bookstores, secure keynote and panel opportunities at conferences, contact other media who might be more interested in you now that there is some buzz about your book. The possibilities are endless– what’s important is that you use your current success to engender more of it.

Be Open

Vulnerability sells, especially in the blogosphere. Those authors wanting to connect with readers will find the most success if they’re willing to be honest about themselves, their flaws, and their failures. It’s not our natural inclination to present ourselves as weak or as having made mistakes–these types of admissions make us feel vulnerable, and we worry that we won’t be respected or liked, because of our peccadillos. But the most popular bloggers out there are so because they’re willing to bare all. We see their flaws and realize that we’re the same way. It’s almost like looking into a mirror–most of us feel safe when we see ourselves in others. We identify with the author’s pain, and when that happens, the connection is powerful.

Leave No Stone Unturned

The more exposure you have to readers out there, the more it’s likely that they will know you. If you sit at home in your office and pile up reasons why you can’t (or won’t) do certain marketing activities for your book, then the opportunities for exposure will be fewer. Marketing follows the law of averages–the more you do to tell others about your book, the more likely it is that you’ll get responses. For that reason, I urge authors to do everything they can to get the word out about their books. This includes activities such as participating in blog tours, scheduling book signings, meet-and-greets, and speaking engagements, writing a blog and posting regularly, writing articles for print and online publications, offering to guest post on others’ blogs, becoming a featured member of a blog, being active on social media, keeping books on hand in their cars, at work, or anywhere they may need them, handing out bookmarks to friends and business acquaintances, soliciting reviews from online reviewers, friends, colleagues, joining writing groups and meetups, attending and speaking at conferences, etc. The possibilities are endless and varied, and authors should take advantage of all of them to maximize exposure.

Tap the Media When Newsworthy

If you find that something in your book or your own life is a popular topic in the current news cycle, jump on the opportunity to introduce yourself to local and national media. Consider how your book or your platform would fit with a current news topic and create a press release and a Q&A around it. Share your idea with producers and editors and be ready to send them back up material–your press release, a headshot, the book cover art, and your Q&A. Timeliness is the key–the news cycles can be short, so be diligent in reading and listening to news outlets so you can take advantage of any opportunities that may appear.

Explore Ideas with Others

Don’t try to go it alone. There are lots of writers out there, and while having so many other authors vying for readership sounds like competition, it can actually be a good thing. Most other authors face the same issues you do, and for that reason, many are a fertile gold mine of resources. Time to plum that mother lode! Read blogs and articles by the experts and those authors whose stars are on the rise. Set up meetings with fellow authors to discuss marketing ideas and share opportunities. Work together on joint events. Or create your own events. Again, the possibilities are limitless, and the more you exchange ideas with others, the more you’ll discover some golden nuggets worth exploring.


Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her by email at paula@paulamargulies.com, view her website at www.paulamargulies.com, contact her on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or say hello on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/Eax7a3sVHAw

How To Be A Feisty Submitter—The Mustard Factor


Let’s go back to the feisty writer premise we introduced in my last blog  Your job as a feisty writer is to:

Take the ego out and stay in creative motion. 

 Nowhere is this more important than in the submission process. Submitting to an agent, competition, or contest can be scary. It’s the moment of judgment. No more dreaming, plotting, editing, or shaping. Your submission will be followed with a clear “yes” or “no.” Having been on both sides of the game, I get it. I’ve been both the “submitter” and the “decider.” I’ve learned a lot being on both sides. But, to be honest, I have learned the most as someone who has had to judge the work of other writers.

Here’s what I can tell you that I have learned as the “decider.” 

There are a certain amount of pieces that rise to the top–these we will call the finalists. 

 They are finalists because they are well written, have strong concepts and unique voices, and are polished.  (You want to hone your craft until you find yourself in this arena. There is no short cut, just consistent joyful work on your craft.)

But, when looking at your pile of finalists, you are facing a crop of good stuff.

How do you decide on a winner?

The honest answer is that it’s subjective. Why one piece hits me and rises to the top is extraordinarily personal and sometimes unexplainable. And often it comes down to the mustard factor.

 What is the mustard factor, you ask?


I was in a room with a group of movie producers, and we were in the process of casting.

All day long, actors came in to read for various parts.

Two equally talented actors came in for the same part. The first actor auditioned before lunch. He was on point, funny, and we were all impressed. Then lunch came, providing us with gourmet hot dogs with gourmet mustard. Said mustard got on the head producer’s tie. It happened to be an expensive silk tie he loved. And that put him in a bad mood.


In walked the second actor. 

And guess what, he was awesome. On point, funny, and we were all impressed. (Maybe he was even a smidge more awesome than the first actor.) But, the producer who was making the ultimate decision was in a bad mood because of his damn soiled tie. No amount of talking it through could convince him that the second actor was as good as the first. 

So the first actor was hired. From that point on, we referred to the subjectiveness of the deciders as “the mustard factor.”

Now don’t get me wrong–you still have to be awesome to get to that round. You need to be a finalist. So work your craft like mad. But don’t take every or any hit personally.

How to Be a Feisty Submitter

1.     Make submitting part of your weekly or monthly schedule. Put contests or agent submissions on your “to do” list. (Go to Hope Clark’s fundsforwriters.com for awesome submission info.)

2.     No need to talk about submissions with anyone, just do it.

3.     Refine, refine, refine. If you are seeking an agent, keep refining that search or rewriting the query if you get feedback. 

4.     Submit to the same competitions even if you are rejected–especially the ones that offer feedback. Take the feedback. They will be impressed with your tenacity.

5.     Run your own race. Do not compare yourself to anyone. Focus on improving your track record of submitting.

6.     Live by the question: Are you better at submitting now that you were in the past? (Keep improving based on your answer.)

7.     Reward yourself for submissions, not for wins.

Photo Credit: goo.gl/images/q6EStg

Killing Your Darlings

Vintage photo man on old-fashioned motorcycle in desertYou’ve heard the phrase everywhere: in how-to books, at conferences, and from many notable authors throughout the years. ‘Kill your darlings’ is widespread writing advice because it’s good writing advice. But, if you’re like me, it’s also one of the hardest pieces of advice to follow. We’re told to write from a place of passion, to give it our all—and then we’re expected to go at our work with the delete button?!

The answer to that is, of course: yes. Unless you’re among the minuscule percentage of writers who never want their work to see the light of day, you’re writing for a reader. And readers can’t read your work if they’re stumbling over words, confused by phrasing or distracted by excessive simile use.

But, for all the people who preach why you should kill your darlings, none of them explain how. They are darling, after all (and not everyone can be as cruel as George R. R. Martin). I say, instead of deleting them out of cyberspace, relocate them.

Whether your go-to program is Microsoft Word, Pages, or a writing program like Scrivener, start a document meant solely for all of your darlings (I call mine, ‘Stuff I Might Use’). When a critique group member, beta reader, or even yourself (upon second or third or fourth reading), sees a problem, a ‘darling’ in your lovely writing, copy and paste that darling into that document.

Just because you have three-too-many similes in one chapter doesn’t mean you can’t recycle those into a future chapter or, for that matter, into a future project. But chances are, eventually, you’ll forget about that heart-wrenching metaphor from page forty-five that pulls the reader out of the moment, or that detailed description of light reflecting off the floorboards which contradicts your character perspective.

The more you practice writing, the more drafts you revise, and the more books and writing advice you read, the easier it’ll be to recognize and eliminate the parts of your writing that aren’t working. I barely flinch anymore when my critique group suggests I cut out a sentence, paragraph, or even an entire chapter.

That’s because killed darlings aren’t wasted words. They are vital to the writing process. Ideas build upon one another. You can’t get from point A to point C without passing through point B first. And if you hold on too dearly to point B, you’ll never progress to point C.

So the next time someone tells you to ‘kill your darlings,’ rest assured that you can always resurrect them. But you might be surprised where all the ‘killing’ takes you!

Photo credit: nos.twnsnd.co/post/150867316324/

The Love Story: Mutant Sharks Are Not Enough

Pearl diver collecting shells from the beds of Torres Strait, Queensland / Frank HurleyFor this post on love stories, I’m stealing massively from Matt Bird of the Cockeyed Caravan blog, specifically his idea that love stories are about two people who fundamentally get each other in ways others don’t. To quote him directly: “Every love scene is about one thing: ‘I understand you.’ If they don’t understand each other, it’s not real love.” That post is HERE, and if you’re writing a love story—or a story with any interpersonal connection—whatsoevergo read it, it’s brilliant.

With that as a premise, here are my thoughts.

People live disconnected from each other almost all the time, and finding the people who see you clearly is rare and hard and miraculous. Love stories, for the purposes of this post, are stories that capture that. It doesn’t need to be romantic love or the central plot. When a story makes me feel that, I’ll follow it anywhere.

But in stories, unlike life, similarity is easy. Fictional people are in constant danger of having viewpoints and preferences identical both to each other and the author. That isn’t compelling, and it doesn’t count.

Let’s say Alice and Bob discover they both adore surfing and then fall in love.

Literally, nobody cares.

Here’s why:

1) We feel nothing for Alice or Bob. They’re not compelling personalities whose goals matter to us.

2) Their connection isn’t unique. It sounds like we could give Alice any surfer boy and she’d be happy, so why worry about Bob?

3) We don’t feel the threat of disconnection. We know of nothing lacking in their lives, and there’s nothing that puts them in conflict.

A love story, like any story, needs conflict, tension, obstacles, and a character struggling towards a goal. But it also needs that one-in-a-million hope of connection that we ache to find and fear to lose.

Here’s my possibly-totally-wrong theory:

In a love story, two people need to be uniquely, specifically, astoundingly aligned in some important way.

And they need to be uniquely, specifically, astoundingly misaligned in some other important way.

In a happily-ever-after story, the forces of alignment gradually win out.

If the relationship ultimately fails, it’s because misalignment wins.

I was going to say that’s it, that’s a love story. It’s not, of course.

I’d love to say I figured that out quickly, but no. I wrote out a whole scenario for Alice and Bob up above, using my theory to turn those surfer kids into a romance that worked. It was pretty cool, too–mutant sharks and everything. But it wasn’t a love story, because I forgot the same thing I always forget.

It’s about vulnerability.

It’s about the slow deepening; it’s about the interplay between I want you to see me and Can I afford to let you see me? and the series of events and revelations that ask your characters to choose. It’s about how I understand you, which is not just great, but also awful and terrible and terrifying.

Character creation is the act of distilling a nigh-infinitely complex human being into few enough traits that we can comprehend them. Howsoever quirky and distinct we make our characters, they’ll never be as gloriously weird as real people.

The above theory is me trying to make a love story something small enough for me to grasp.

Let me know what you think.

Photo Credit: Pearl diver collecting shells from the beds of Torres Strait, Queensland/ Frank Hurley 1885-1962. flickr.com/photos/national_library_of_australia_commons/25269617161/