Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Six Pillars of Your Writing Education

November 28, 2017

By Art Holcomb

I’ve been a writing teacher for a very long time.

I started in the 1990’s with a small group of students and, today, I teach classes and seminars in-person and through the internet to people throughout the U.S., in eleven different countries in four different languages.

And, unfortunately, I see the same problems everywhere I go.

What we do, as writers, is separate and lonely.  We write and dream and hunger for the kind of information and guidance that we need to move forward – to level up, as we talked about last time.

I think you are some of the lucky ones – because you’re here . . .

You found Larry and StoryFix and you’re beginning to see that not all craft information is the same.

There are some sources, like StoryFix, which are dedicated to getting you what you absolutely need to learn your craft and thrive.

It would be fantastic if every site could be like this one.

But the internet can be an unending stream of junk information which, at best, is weak regurgitations of classic insights and, at worst, is misleading and harmful.

But that’s even not the biggest problem.

The absolute worst thing I’ve found is that many writers are led to believe that this never- ending diet of craft McNuggets is all they need for success.  That this diet of informational fast food is enough to move them to the next level and show them the path to achievement in writing.

This is simply not true.

This is misleading.

And you deserve much more.

How I began here.

I came to Larry and StoryFix in 2011.  I was already a successful working writer. But I was so moved by what Larry had to say that I sent him a note, telling him that I thought he was on to something very special with this site and his books.

He was kind enough to invite me to guest post and I have need here off and on ever since.

What made this possible is that we were of a very similar mindset.

What drives us both are these two separate concepts:

  • The need to get real craft information into the hands of writers ready to hear it – and actually use it – and…
  • The need to fight back against the well-meaning but damaging information that fills the internet.

So – here it is.

So that there is no misunderstanding about where I‘m coming from, here is a list of what I believe you REALLY need for success as a writer – what I call the Six Pillars of Success:

  • High Quality Craft Information
  • A constantly available Mentoring Relationship
  • A short Feedback Loop
  • Real, Effective Accountability
  • An ever-improving Process
  • Access to Deep Writing

Pillar #1 – High Quality Craft Information

There is a reason why Aristotle is revered amongst writers.

Why Joseph Campbell and Robert McKee are honored names.

And why you come back to StoryFix – and Larry Brooks – time and time again . . .

Because we all are thirsty travelers crossing an unending desert.

From an informational and craft standpoint, the internet – your main source of information about writing – is filled with hacks, tips, secrets, and top-ten lists, all from well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) writers wanting to share their knowledge with you.

Here are some standards by which you could judge any piece of information you’re considering.

  • Is it MEANINGFUL? Does it make sense to you on a craft level? Is it there to make you writing better or is it touted to make your writing easier? Is it appropriate for your level right now? Does it sound like the writer is trying to impress you, rather than seriously help you?

I’ve been writing all my life and one thing has been as true today as it have seen for the last 40 years . . .

Good writing is not easy. It is troubling and difficult.

Why? Because it is meant to be.

And anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.

All art must come from some deeper place, and the talent that you seek does not lie on the surface.  Like gold in the ground, it requires hard work and digging to access.  This frankly is because all good things are hard to achieve.

If you find writing to be easy, simple, breezy and completely enjoyable, it’s very possible that you’re not even scratching the surface of what you can accomplish.

  • Is it VALUABLE? Will this information lead you to write something that is unlike anything you’ve ever written before? Can it help you to get published and build an audience? Can you instantly see that what you are able to do with this information is as good as what you see in books, movies, short stories and stage plays? When you share your work with others, are they clearly moved by your words?

Whether it’s for publication or merely for exercise, will this information help you to become a better writer?

  • Is it RARE? Quite simply, will it help make your most recent piece of work the best thing you have done to date? Is it clearly, and instantly better?

That, in a nutshell, is what you want in all the craft information you are considering.

Whether you’re getting the information from a post, a book, or a seminar like one of mine, you want to be ever moving forward. And, if you’re honest with yourself, you can already recognize the difference between information that tells you something that you can really use, and something that simply tells you something you’ve heard many times before.

So, you need to develop some real radar about what is useful and what is not.  In the weeks ahead, we’ll try to help you develop that sense, and teach you to fill your individual tool boxes with valuable tools and insights.

Next time, we’ll talk about Pillar #2 – The need for a positive mentoring relationship in your life.

Until then, just keep writing.

Art

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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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