The Beautiful Writers Workshop #21: The Keeper Shelf

Happy Thursday, writers! Today we’re jumping right into the craft of writing and, more to the point, how the books we read influence and inspire us. Many of us know that to be a better* writer, we must spend a lot of time reading good books.

 *I’ve heard it said many times that if you want to write well, you must devote an equal if not greater time reading, especially within your genre. I have mixed feelings on this. Yes, reading good work in your genre can be important to how you formulate story, find inspiration, and learn. But if you are doing it solely from the perspective as a writer, it can also cause you to lose a bit of that magic we call your ‘voice’. And, don’t misunderstand, I LOVE TO READ. But I will often lose myself in a good book (Thanks a bunch Chuck Wendig, you beautiful beast of a writer) to the extent that I use up most of my ‘free time’ and close the cover in a self-made brain fog, where in I can’t find my laptop let alone write something coherent. So I guess what I’m saying is: Balance.

Today, I want to talk about what you read and in particular your “Keeper Shelf”.

Ladies and Gentleman Hectic Eclectic (Part 1)

All of us have a “Keeper Shelf”, I’m sure of it. These are the books and stories that we love so much we can’t bear to part with them. They have somehow touched us, shaped us, hit that chord deep inside that makes us want to read them over and over again. This shelf is unique for each person and what’s lovely about your Keeper Shelf is that you’ve chosen these books because something about them worked so intrinsically well that you keep coming back, even when you know how it ends. These are the best ‘how to’ manuals we have as writers.

Hectic Eclectic (Part Deux). Ballerinas next to Deadpool (thanks April Kramer), a dash of Xian Terra cotta warrior and an empty bottle of what my father said was part of his worst college experience. Oh…and some of my all time favorite books. High brow.

This week, I want you to take an introspective look at an area you are struggling with in your own novel/work. For some of us, that might be dialogue. It might be story arc, it might be how best to show (not tell) emotion, character quirks, climax, scene setting, you name it. At least one of those authors on your keeper shelf has nailed a concept that you are struggling with. Once you identify what you’re trying to accomplish with a story, scene, or character, I would love you to take another look at one of your ‘faves’ that did it right.

Read, re-read, dissect it, pull it apart and diagram it on post-it notes…

“Ah, she doesn’t say Mel is sad…she makes the sky cloud over—even the setting turns dark—and  Mel misses breakfast for the third time because she can’t pull herself out of bed, and her eyes hurt, and her mom won’t stop asking her if she’s all right.”

“Ah—I can see these characters care about each other because they can pick on tender parts in their banter and only love each other more for it.”

“She leaves every chapter with a tiny cliffhanger…that’s why I can’t put it down.”

“He’s made Nessie so human and imperfect, by all the things she does despite of her internal dialogue, he makes her a hero that feels personal.”

You get the idea. It is the sincerest form of flattery and honor to use someone’s work to make yours better. Obviously, I’m not advocating for plagiarism; you will and should write your own story, but if another author’s work helps you see the difference between what works and what doesn’t, then utilize their book as a tool to get you there.

You have shelve(s) of Master’s Classes right in your own home so go through some of your old favorites and pull out the things those writers are doing to connect with you as a reader so you can do the same with your own readers.

Constant and continual improvement in our writing craft is essential to success. Because someday, we all hope that a reader gets to the last page of our book, closes the cover, puts it up on that top shelf in their library, and says, “That’s a keeper.”

The Beautiful Writers Workshop: Week #4 Hear Me Out

 

Last week we explored some fun little writing prompts (by the way, I’m all aquiver in anticipation for those to start rolling in so…don’t keep a lady waiting, it isn’t polite). I hope that you found out something fun, disturbing, and original to spark some new projects. You clever writer, I bet they are fabulous (send them in)!

This week, in order to give your creative noodle a break, I thought I’d switch more to the editorial aspect of writing. Specifically, the sound of our writing and what it means for our readers.

Whether it’s poetry meant to be read aloud, stumbling through your first chapter at a promotional event, or having your book read by a parent to their child, the flow and sound of your “writing voice” matters and reading it out loud changes a lot about what you can only see on the page.

So, let’s talk about the benefits of using oral…

laugh

Okay. Sorry, that was the fifteen-year-old boy part of my brain thinking he’s clever.

Ahem.

Apologies.

This exercise doesn’t take much effort and is an easy way to edit a work in progress that may be in its final stages of completion. Or, if you’re a poet, this is by far the best way to gauge the power and purpose of your work.

Print out a chapter of your novel, a poem, or a short story (I suppose you can use your device or laptop—the girl who loves the feeling of paper between her fingers sighs to the encroaching dominance of technology).

Then read that piece out loud either to yourself or to your unwilling cat.

adorable angry animal animal portrait
*note: It isn’t that your cat doesn’t like your work, I’m just saying cats don’t, in general, like anything that doesn’t meet their own needs, and writing that does anything but pay homage to their divinity, tends to fall short in their demographic. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

 

If you don’t have an audience, I encourage you to use a mirror.

Read vibrantly, read purposefully, read with intonation and depth. Meet your eyes in that mirror and feel the story, the dialogue; that stanza of hard cutting thought.

You will start to hear your particular voice emerge and you will also find editorial errors that are invisible during the brash sweep of only eyes without the mouth getting involved.

So, get your mouth involved (*snicker* *snort*)

Oh man… come on!

I think I’ll stop there for the week.

Go read your stuff out loud. Make marks on the paper (or device) where you notice inconsistencies, mistakes, or ‘not right’ words.

Change them, make it better.

I’ll catch you next Tuesday for exciting news about the Poetry Anthology.