An editorial collaboration between Larry Brooks and Art Holcomb.

Click HERE for a post that explains the mission of this website and the differentiating perspective behind it. 

The Writer’s Balance

November 24, 2017

A guest post by Stephanie Raffelock

It takes courage to get up every day and write. You have to love what you are doing and you have to believe in yourself to do it.  It’s humbling for me to be the perpetual student of craft and of story. And sometimes on a good day, the best that I can muster for my life’s passion and purpose is insecurity and a lot of caffeine to meet the real and self-imposed deadlines.

The thing I know for sure about writing is this: Muses and inspiration tend to be sporadic at best, and unreliable at worst.  The courage part of writing is working it everyday, anyway. Don’t think I haven’t dreamed about how a dry martini or other consciousness altering accutromonts might stave off the existential loneliness of writing. Unfortunately those things are unreliable too. So how does one buck up and balance the solitude, the glacial speed of professional career development and the other demands of this art form?

When In Doubt, Serve:

I have two mission statements for my writing life.  One, I’ve already stated– get up every day and write.  The other is to find ways to be in service to writers through support, encouragement and educational resources. The second part of my mission statement has provided me membership into a large literary community.  And that is where I find balance.

Support:

Attend local library events. Intellectual gatherings that foster ideas and creativity are essential, and can inform your writing.  Support independent bookstores. Get to know the clerks in these stories and talk to them about your favorite genres. Get recommendations. Create an ongoing dialogue. What sells? What’s the most popular women’s fiction? Have you discovered anyone new that I should know about?  Don’t wait until you want your self-published books on a shelf in their store.

Encouragement: 

None of us can hear positive comments enough.  It’s important to honor the writers in your community. Look for what’s good in other people’s work and share that–we all get enough serious criticism. Celebrate the person who got an agent. Celebrate the one who self-published. And celebrate the individual going to their first writing conference.  These are shared successes and here is where true inspiration comes from.

Education:

Share your talent, skills and abilities with your community. Do you have time to read a book to a group of kids at the library, the bookstore or an assisted living center?  Can you make recommendations for good writing books with authority — because you’ve actually studied the book yourself and it’s helped you? I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve recommended Larry’s books to writers that I knew were struggling to figure out that damn novel format, and each time that I did, I knew I was doing that fellow writer a solid.  Are you continuing to educate yourself through constant reading? I like to read independently published writers, small press writers who aren’t household names but have wonderful stories to tell. It’s important to know what truly moves you and not just what’s trending.

Here’s the Bottom Line on Balance:

Writers think way too much about what they can get. Can I get an agent? Can I get a book contract? Can I get a hundred likes on my author page?  To be truly balanced as both a writer and a person, “what can I give” needs to be part of the equation.

Here’s a personal illustration: This past summer, my book was making the publisher rounds, courtesy of my wonderful literary agent.  She had said to me, “Stephanie, I just know that the right publisher is out there for this book.”  Two months later she sent me 35 rejection notices. And although most of those rejections were filled with encouragement, praise and support, because there was no forthcoming book deal, I was crushed.  This happened two days before the writer’s conference that I attend every year in Portland.  I had wanted to enter that conference, a woman triumphant, but instead, I walked through the door with my head down and my tail dragging.  But that only lasted for about five minutes.

I sit on the Board of Directors for that particular conference (Willamette Writers.) I direct the Young Willamette Writers program and there were lots of people depending upon me that weekend.  So my attention shifted quickly because I had 16 kids to chaperone through the writer’s conference. Sharing in the excitement of being in service to those kids took the sting out of the loneliness and rejection that come with the writing territory.

What drives me, satisfies me and keeps me going as a novelist in the becoming, is that I do the work; I am as authentic and truthful as I can be; and I have balance in how I give my talents back to the world.  You don’t have to wait to be a published writer in order to live the writing life. And to me, part of the writing life is what you give back.

It is only in the authentic fullness of life and gratitude for the gifts we are given that we become better writers, and better people. So, by all means make writing the goal. Constantly search for the sweet spot that is that ineffable quality of voice that makes good writing so compelling. Continue to study and practice all of the time. And balance all of it with the joy of what you can give.

Stephanie Raffelock is an aspiring novelist who writes about the transformational forces of life. She served an internship at The Boulder Daily Camera, and has been published in The Aspen Times and Quilter’s Magazine. She is a regular contributor on SixtyandMe.com as well as a contributing writer for The Rogue Valley Messenger.  Stephanie is the Youth Programming Director for Oregon’s Willamette Writers, and maintains a board position with Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library. You can reach out to her at stephanieraffelock.com and @Sraffelock.

*****

Note from Larry: given it’s the Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to share a bit of good news, for which I am thankful.

You may remember my little side project last year, a relationship book entitled Chasing Bliss. Earlier this year it was named the winning entry in the Relationships category at the 2017 Next Generation Indie Awards.

If you’re looking for an awkward moment in your life among friends and family, write a book on relationships. I could do a reality show on that one.

The book’s website is HERE.

Chasing Bliss FRONT cover final jpeg (1)

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Another 2-Hour Writing Clinic, This Time on Scene Writing

Another learning opportunity – and one heck of an entertaining experience – awaits writers in the form of Lady Bird, a character-driven film currently in major release, starring 2-time Oscar nominated actress Saoirse Ronan and written/directed by the poster-child of character-driven movies, Greta Gerwig (best known as an actress, though she quietly has 10 film writing credits, and may just score Oscar nominations here for writing and/or directing).

I almost didn’t see this movie. While I applaud Gerwig’s many acting successes, her films haven’t proven to be my preferred cup of tea. But when Rotten Tomatoes gave Lady Bird a 100 % critics score (90 % from viewers), and because I’m a big fan of Ronan (most of us first saw her in The Lovely Bones, one of my favorite novel-to-film titles), I got out of my own way and found myself lost in the film from the opening scene (see clip below).

Here’s why I recommend this film to writers: it exemplifies two things that are high on the degree-of-difficulty attributes of story.

  1. Scene writing: While it’s easy to simply get lost in this narrative, the scenes will keep you smiling and nodding. Each scene resides within the arc of the story as a unique dramatic unit. Unlike many character-centric stories, each scene contributes massively to the exposition, depositing something that builds on what precedes it, while setting up that which follows it.

Many of the scenes – more than most – will surprise you with a twist, either to the character or to the exposition. And while you’ll laugh (hard) at many of these antics, you’ll also have to manage your emotions, which are always at the forefront of the mission of each and every scene.

2) Concept/Premise: The premise here is light on conceptual weight, something I like to emphasize, if nothing more than because it’s really hard to bring a non-conceptual story alive.

Here’s the pitch: the story follows a socially-awkward girl through her senior year of high school in Sacramento, CA, showing us the stressful relationship she has with her controlling mother (played by the wonderful Laurie Metcalf, best known from her role in television’s The Big Bang Theory).

Not exactly a must-see proposition.

And yet… it sizzles on the screen. Not just because of Ronan’s riveting performance (get ready for her third Oscar nod from this), but because of Greta Gerwig’s ear for dialogue and nose for the journey of transitioning from child to young adult.

Check out the trailer below, you’ll see these very things manifesting within these two and a half minutes. After you see the film, chip in your thoughts below.

Enjoy. And learn while you’re at it. I know I did.

Larry

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Filed under Characterization Series