Writers Resources

Behind the laptop

Sometimes you walk into a coffee shop and there are so many laptops it looks like a computer store. Have you ever wondered what all these people are working on? I always think, “Maybe my new favorite book is being written in this room right now!”

For the last few weeks, I’ve been going up to strangers in coffee shops and asking them what they are working on. It was pretty intimidating at first. I didn’t want to interrupt their work, I’m not used to starting conversations with strangers, and strangers don’t look very inviting when they’re staring at their computers. But it was a great experience. I learned that people really like talking about their work and that they are aching for a connection with other creative people.

Meet Tricia Alexandro

Below are her answers to the three questions I’ve been asking writers in coffee shops.

20151130_112749

Tricia Alexandra writing at The Queens Kickshaw.

Me: What are you working on?

Tricia: “A short film about a couple taking a trip to Paris. It’s one of those trips you take thinking it’s going to solidify your relationship but instead it reveals all the cracks.”

M: What’s your next stage and what do you need to get there?

T: “I want to be paid for my work. I want more exposure and a writing community. I find that kind of support is imperative for getting to the next level because those kinds of people inspire you and also hold you accountable. When you see the consistency of other people, and the fact that they’re making a go at it on a daily basis, that encourages me. And you also share resources when you have a community.”

M: What does a writer need?

T: “I think self-compassion is probably the best thing to have as a writer because most of your first drafts and even fifth drafts are going to be shitty. Also curiosity about what’s going on around you. Be gentle on yourself and persevere.”

This conversation was such a great affirmation of what I’m doing with my organization, Writers Work. I’m proud to be creating a supportive community to help writers develop their craft, career, and community. I’m hosting my FIFTH conference on Saturday, April 9 and it’s going to be a great place to find a community as well as get inspired and informed. I hope you can come and spread the word.

*** As a side note, I’m still working on the film. We’re in the audition process for cinematographers and actors. I will be writing about it soon, but in the meantime you can get more updates by liking the Lily and Mara facebook page.***

How Beyoncé saved my blog

In writing this blog, I forced myself to do a lot of crazy things I would never have done without a sense of public accountability. I told the world, or at least my few followers, that I was going to figure out a career path that satisfied my (he)art and (so)ul. Through the heso project, I started a company to make baby products, I became a personal consultant in Central Park, and I tried my hand at public relations. It took a few years and a few misguided attempts, but I learned that what I love most is creating writing communities.

In the last two years, I developed Writers Work, a supportive community for emerging and established authors. I’ve been hosting conferences, retreats and readings through this organization, and while it’s extremely exhausting, It’s equally rewarding. On a personal level, the creative communities I’ve established have helped challenge and develop my  writing. I’ve even gotten into screenwriting, which I will be posting about shortly.

Interestingly enough, the more followed my heso project, the less I was writing about it on this blog. Here were my two reasons: One, the day-to-day minutiae of following your dreams can be really boring and involves a whole lot of patience. I didn’t think you guys would want to read a post about me sending a follow-up email to someone I met at a party and waiting a month for a response. Two, I don’t have a lot of extra free time. For gosh sakes, I’m writing  a novel and two screenplays, I’m constantly planning and marketing my conferences, and I take on freelance work to pay the bills.

Of course these two excuses are nonsense. What’s the point of figuring out your dream job, if you don’t know how to follow through with it? I’ve learned so much in the last tow years and it’s greedy not to share it 🙂 In my future posts, I’m going to go into more detail of what I’m doing but also keep it broad enough so that you can relate to it even if you’re not a writer.

And as for the time excuse, I love this little piece of advice:

beyonce

Thank you, Beyonce, for reminding me to use my time wisely.

Stay tuned for a  behind the scenes look at how I put together a writer’s retreat and how I’m collaborating on a film!

Exciting News!

Do you ever have one of those months where everything finally comes together? I hope you do, because it feels fantastic. After a lot of hard work, I have some great news to share:

  1. I have a new website for my Writers Work conference series, and I’ve added a writer’s retreat feature! I used the logo you guys chose. Check it out and let me know what you think.
  2. I sent out my first query letter for my novel!
  3. I submitted a short story to The New Yorker and The Missouri Review.
  4. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…discounted tickets are now available for the next Writers Work Conference 9/20/14 in Times Sq. NY! Have lunch with an agent, hear about authors’ experiences of getting published, meet approachable editors and publishers who want to share the inside scoop with you, and connect with other writers. It’s going to be an amazing day
2014-03-23 15.58.18

Ahhh the joy of getting sh*t done!

I’ve Become a Stalker

Paper doll with clothes

Paper doll with clothes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a little kid, I loved playing with paper dolls. I’d cut their outfits out as quickly as possible, all the while thinking about what accent they’d have, what their life was like, what they would say to their friends. I guess that was the beginning of my life as a writer.

I’ve moved on to the adult version of paper dolls. After completing the first draft of my novel, I picked out which actors would play my characters if I had my dream cast. Then I made a note card for each character with their basic information, as well as some notes about their wants, motives, background and how they create tension with the protagonist.

I carry these note cards in my wallet, and whenever I come up with an insight about a particular character or a figure of speech they might use, I write it on the back of the card. Yes, I am stalking my characters.

My entire cast of characters.

My entire cast of characters.

Here’s a great tip for writers: When working on a scene, I take out the note cards for each of the characters who appear in that scene and place them next to the screen. This really helps me visualize the action, and remember the distinct voices for dialog. And it’s fun!

Marla, my cat, has been by my side, or at least my computer, for the entire writing process.

The characters in the scene I’m working on. Marla, my cat, has been by my side, or at least my computer, for the entire writing process.

Life Lessons from a Writer

20131122_185309

My Storyboard

In all the excitement of Brutal First Impressions, I forgot to mention that I finished the first draft of my novelIn the Pride! 216 pages and over 60,000 words, and that’s not even including the hundreds of pages from the three earlier versions I struggled with.

I started this book last November when I bought my first and only lottery ticket. The story was originally about a woman who wins the lottery but loses her life. Somehow that story became one about a big cat sanctuary (because that’s where I would go if I won the lottery). Now the story is about the connection between animal conservation and global politics — there’s still a sanctuary, but no lottery ticket in sight.

I hope some of the things I’ve learned from writing can be useful in everyday life :

  1. Show up I recently came across the perfect quote by David Campbell: “Discipline is remembering what you want.” There were many days I didn’t feel like writing, but I forced myself to sit at my computer (with the internet turned off), recognizing that if creativity didn’t get me started, boredom would. Remember what you want most in life, and start doing it even if you’re not ready.
  2. Take it easy on yourself. When I write I have a constant voice in my head yelling, “crap!” It’s amazing I get anything done with that distraction. That’s when I say, “yes, this is crap, but even roses grow in sh*t.” Expecting everything that comes out of you to be perfect is extremely inhibiting. Let yourself be average or even terrible, and have confidence that you’ll know how to fix it eventually.
  3. Let things go. After writing 100 pages of my first draft, I signed up for a writing class. My classmates all agreed that the writing was great but the premise wasn’t believable. I kept thinking that if I could just tweak a word here or there, I could make it work. I realized that I could work on that version for years before realizing that it didn’t make sense, or I could start over with a better premise. As soon as I let that version go the next draft was effortless. If the foundation isn’t right you need to let it go. I’ve seen the same thing apply in relationships. People don’t want to break up because they’ve invested so much time into a relationship, but if it’s not working, don’t waste even more time on it.
  4. The beginning is at the end I got this advice from a publisher and it could not be more true. While I was slaving away on the first 50 pages of my manuscript, I was neglecting the greater picture of my story. The publisher told me that I had to finish the entire story in order to know what’s really important. Now that I’ve finished it, I realize that the sections I was perfecting don’t really need to be in the story. When you get closer to the end of your life you begin to see what was really important and what was a waste of time. The only thing I can suggest is don’t waste time making things perfect. Stay curious until the very end.
  5. cover design

    A mock up of my future novel (with the old working title).

    Have fun and reward yourself Throughout the writing process I’ve pinpointed important milestones that I wanted to celebrate. My reward for finishing the first draft is to visit Idaho, where my story is set, so I’ll be writing about that soon. I’ve also come up with different fun ideas to keep the vision of my book alive. A big goal will take over your life. It’s not enough to celebrate at the end, you need to have fun in the process as well.

 

Video from my reading!

Yay, we did it! I planned a reading at Astoria Bookshop, over 30 people came, and it was exhilarating. On Wednesday night, the members of my writing group and I each shared 10 minute excerpts from the novels we’re writing. It was way out of our comfort zone, but you need to leave your comfort zone in order to grow. So, without further ado, here’s the footage of my portion. Sorry about the occasional noise from the subway- #lifeinNYC!

 

4 books every writer should have

I think I enjoy reading about writing, more than I enjoy the act of writing. Writers seem to be the most sensitive, interestingly flawed people on the planet, and I love reading their candid accounts of the blessings and struggles of writing. Here are some of my favorite books on writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts, or further reading suggestions.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

 Anne has a biting sense of humor, and she’s brutally honest. I first came to this book after reading an excerpt called shitty first drafts, and I was hooked on her quirky essays ever since. She reminds the reader that writing is not a fun, rewarding activity. Writers hear the call of duty, and they can’t escape it. Without this ever-evolving challenge to express oneself, the writer would feel hollow and lost. But she also reminds us that our challenges can be conquered, and that piece by piece, bird by bird, our efforts will amount to something.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

 This was the first book on writing I ever read. Even though he made writing seem like a tortuous, tedious task, after finishing this book, all I wanted to do was read more and write more. Half of it is a memoir and half is instructions on the craft of writing. Not only does King’s life read like one of his captivating stories, his tips are easy to follow and give the writer immediate results. I stopped over-using adverbs after reading this book. As King wrote, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” He taught me not to let the strict rules of grammar cramp my style. He taught me about persistence, rejection, and appreciation.

“Almost everyone can remember losing his or her virginity, and most writers can remember the first book he/she put down thinking: I can do better than this. Hell, I am doing better than this! What could be more encouraging to the struggling writer than to realize his/her work is unquestionably better than that of someone who actually got paid for his/her stuff?”

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

 This in not merely required reading for every writer, but for everyone who is alive. Julia gives amazing tips on how to live a more creative, fun, and fulfilling life. She makes art seem accessible, and a natural part of everyone’s existence. I’ve read this book so many times, and the margins are filled with notes, the text underlined and circled repeatedly. The key to this book, however, is that you can’t just read it; you must follow all the action steps.

“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.”

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I haven’t actually read this one yet. It’s been recommended by every writer I know, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Fortunately, I just ordered it and will read it soon. In the meantime, here’s a quote from it that I really enjoyed:

“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me… I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life… I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I’ll ever have.”

Ok, Since I didn’t read the last book, I’m throwing in a bonus book: The Mind Of Your Story: Discover What Drives Your Fiction by Lisa Lenard-Cook

Honestly, I love just holding this elegant book. There’s something beautiful and charming about the size and illustrations. It gives a lot of useful advice on the elements of fiction, with helpful diagrams and quotes. This book is great if you are new to writing, or if you want a refresher on how to express and structure your thoughts. I’ve never heard the struggle of writing described better than this:

“One of the most important tools as a writer is the ability to keep your senses open to everything around you- not simply seeing but listening, smelling, tasting, touching, and, most difficult of all, being open and empathetic to everyone (and everything) with whom you come in contact. Being this sensitive isn’t easy, which is why I suspect, so many of us retreat into our hidey-holes to recover from our forays into the outside world…It’s all the more ironic, then, that we open, receptive, caring, over-sensitive sorts must learn to shoulder rejection far more often than other mere mortals. No, not just shoulder it, but accept it and then as quickly as possible expose the rejected part of ourselves yet again, long before the hurt has begun to heal.”

Enjoy your reading, and let me know what you think!

Putting the pieces together: a tip for writers

I was working on a complicated short story and I couldn’t figure out how to sequence the events. I sat at my computer copying and pasting, scrolling up and down the word document, searching for what should go where. Finally I just printed it out, cut up the different segments and laid them all out on the floor. I tried out many different sequences until I found the best one. I also cut up some blank strips of paper and put them  in between sections that needed a transition.

2013-06-27 10.19.35It was so helpful to edit my story in this unconventional manner. I spend so much time on the computer, sometimes I forget that writing can happen off the screen. I highly recommend trying this out, but first, here are two tips:

1. Wait a little while before putting it in order. I tried putting it in order right after printing it and I ended up putting it back in the exact same order. I tried it again the next day, and came up with a much better, fresher order.

2. If you have pets, tape it up as soon as you’re done . 

2013-06-27 10.25.59

Even if this short story goes nowhere, Marla will always love my writing.

2013-06-27 10.26.31

Where there is smoke there are bees? Part II

*warning, don’t scroll down if you have a weak stomach*

After the train evacuation, we were eager to relax in the pool and watch fireworks, but the next few days were real work. I had invited my writers’ group to my parents house for a mini writers’ retreat. It’s really easy to set up a retreat.  Here’s an example of our schedule:

9-10: Yoga. Fortunately one of our members is a yoga instructor, but if you don’t have this in your group you can do gentle stretches, or take a walk outside.

10-10:30: Breakfast

10:30-11: A prompt from The Writer’s Toolbox. After writing for fifteen minutes, we passed our computers to the person to our left to read it out loud. It was incredible to hear the diversity of stories we were able to come up with using the same prompt. It was also refreshing to hear someone else reading your work.

11-1: Working on our stories with a 5 minute break in the middle to stretch.

1-2: lunch and discussion about work.

2-3: Art time: We designed the covers of our future novels. I loved doing this because not only is it fun and motivating, I realized a major theme in my story that I never picked up on until I was drawing it. Sometimes all you need is to take a new approach!

3-6: A longer writing block.

6-7:30 : discussion of problem areas in our novels.

7:30-9: Dinner. (We didn’t have a chance to do this, but I thought it would be fun for each writer to prepare a meal that their main character would eat. Knowing what your character eats gives you surprising insight.)


9-11: A rousing game of Cards Against Humanity played with my parents. It was priceless to hear my dad ask, “now what the heck is queefing?”

I should have just stuck to writing, because everything was going great, but then I just had to have some relaxation. On the last day, we decided to spend some time out by the pool.

2013-07-07 17.20.07

The day after the sting.

The second I opened the door to go outside, a hornet flew into my face and stung me below my left eyebrow. Within an hour my eye swelled shut. The pain was intense, but I tried to ignore it. I have an Epipen because I’m allergic to ants (what?!?! who’s allergic to ants?), but since the swelling was localized, I didn’t use it. The swelling went down by nighttime…

And then I woke up at 6am because it felt like there was a burning potato shoved under my eyelid. My eye had swelled up even worse. I called my doctor and left a message on the emergency line. Mike went out to get me benadryl. By the time the on-call doctor called me back, my eye felt like it weighed 200 pounds. The doctor told me to go to the ER. I asked him if I could just take the benadryl, and he said absolutely not. After waiting at the ER for two hours, and giving them all my hard-earned money, the ER doctor told me to take benadryl! Aghh I hate our medical system.

2013-07-07 22.23.21

After two days: At this point I could open my eye slightly, but I sounded drunk when I talked because my lips and jaw were so swollen.

It took four full days for the swelling to go down. I have to admit it was really depressing. I was taking double doses of benadryl, so I was sleeping every other hour, and I couldn’t really talk because my jaw had swelled up, and I was really scared that there would be some permanent damage. I guess this is what happens when a city girl spends time outdoor. On Monday I tried to write my mini memoir, but after an hour of typing I don’t think I stumbled on a single real word.

Now that I’m all back to normal, I would have to say I’d do it all over again. That’s right, the train evacuation and bee sting were nothing compared to the fun, and engaging weekend I had with my writer friends.

I’m really grateful to my parents who hosted us. If you’re not so fortunate to have parents close enough to visit, but far enough to make it feel like a real getaway, I suggest splitting the cost of a cabin rental with your friends. There are cabins in the Catskills that rent for under $150 a night.

wpid-20130711_102417.jpg

After 5 days, I’m  still a little puffy but I only have a little scab under my eyebrow.

If you don’t have a writers’ group, or a group of friends that have a similar creative goal, I would suggest going on Meetup to find a group. Having friends to motivate and inspire me in my writing goals has made the difference between wanting to be writer, and actually sticking with it through the highs and lows. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be 🙂

Related articles