Friday, February 17, 2017

Westside Writers Recap, February 2017: The Dreaded Synopsis

Hey friends!

We are still working on the full blog post, but in the meantime here are some of the links we talked about at the Mingle.

More coming soon!


Here is the link Susan Berger sent from Jennifer Crusie:

And Amy Duchene sent these links breaking down The Interestings for multi-POV synopses:

Westside Writers Recap, January 2017: Journaling and Doodling for Writers

by Rebecca Light

The Los Angeles Westside Writers Lit Mingle kicked off the New Year with a session that explored visual journaling for writers. For those of us in the children’s book world not bestowed with the talents of our illustrator pals, we easily forget what an asset freeing the hand can be to freeing the mind.
Author Linda Barry has written a book on visual journaling that many in the Mingle room recommended. The topic of coloring books for adults also came up, specifically a book by Dr. Stan Rodski which targets specific areas of the brain and cognitive functions based on the coloring exercise.
We next embarked on a series of visual exercises, with instructions to let our hands move freely, allowing the pencil to lead. Releasing all inhibitions and transferring power to our pencils, we doodled with no restraint for several minutes.
The next exercise required even more release of mental reservation. We were asked to draw a self-portrait—with our eyes closed. Judging from the grumbles in the room, our brains were instantly put off by the task—but of course that was the point. We pushed our minds beyond what seemed possible, and found delightful results. The portraits in the room could be described as accurate, endearing, surprising, but certainly not boring.

Next we drew with our non-dominant hand, and what fascinated me personally about this exercise was not that it was harder or easier than expected to use my left hand, but that in doing so I ended up with uncharacteristic content. I consistently doodle rainbows, kittens, puppies, and charming alien creatures in my journals, but surprising even to myself was when my left hand doodled a hissing snake. 

For the last exercise, we chose elements of our own works in progress in which we felt stuck, and we drew them. For many writers the process helped them to understand their character in a deeper way and see the scene with fresh eyes. For me, I could tell this exercise would require more time. I had to keep reminding myself that even if my hand could not recreate the image in my head, I could explore the scene through doodle as long as I didn’t judge what came out through my pencil.
This month’s mingle reminded me of something Adam Rex shared at an SCBWI conference two years ago. He said that people ask him all the time, “When did you start drawing?” and that he always answers back by saying, “When did you stop?” This month, the writers in the basement of the Santa Monica library were offered a cordial invitation to pick up that crayon once again. Many of us agreed that using our minds, and hands, in a new way allowed a new perspective to shine through our work.

Westside Writers Mingle Recap, December 2016: White Elephant Book Swap!

by Rebecca Light

In the spirit of the season, the Westside Writers Mingle met in December to swap books in a White Elephant gift exchange. The group was instructed in advance to bring a book they had enjoyed reading that year, wrapped and ready for the hands of a new reader. A room filled with book lovers, homemade brownies, and a table full of whimsically wrapped books was undoubtedly the party of the year for many of us.
Here is a list of the books that made the rounds at our White Elephant gift exchange.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Westside Writers Mingle November 2016 Recap: Pantsers vs Plotters—Techniques to Get Into Your Writing

by Laurie Young

Taking an informal survey of the room, we discovered that we ran the full gamut of pure pantsers to hybrid pantser/plotters and all the way to dedicated plotters and outliners. Some used both techniques at different stages of their process, either starting out completely blind and then developing an outline after the first draft was done, or starting with a detailed outline and then letting the writing veer off as needed, during the revision process.

Many great tips were shared, such as:

  • Write a letter from the perspective of your character telling about their life and story, rather than writing a synopsis.
  • Use the character’s choices and wants to determine what happens next.
  • Free write around a difficult scene, trying it from each character’s point-of-view.
  • Rewrite a scene from your story from the antagonist’s point of view, as if he is the hero.
  • To open your mind—take a walk and note observations along the way. Pick 5 things observed and write a 20-word sentence about each (do not go over the word count). Pick 1 sentence and write a short story from it.

At the end of the evening, both pantsers and plotters shared great ideas for bridging the gap and using techniques from both camps to further their writing.

Some resources:
The Plot Whisperer books

Westside Writers Mingle October 2016 Recap: Writer's Block and Fear

by Rebecca Light 

The October Lit Mingle carried out its own Halloween tradition by discussing something truly scary—writer’s block. We began our circle of introductions with where we found ourselves on the spectrum of writer’s block—a “1” being the magical unicorns who never experience writer’s block, and a “10” being the extreme sufferers. The group landed all over the spectrum. What we discovered through this exercise was that we have varying definitions of writer’s block.
For some, writer’s block represents the time-honored experience of staring at a blank page; for others it can be the frustration of not knowing where your story goes next. One mingler shared notes from a blog by Mary Robinette Kowal, who broke down the concept into four categories: drowsy, staring, restless, and dithering.
Writer’s block can be external (the story presents the challenge) or internal (something going on with you presents the challenge). While the former is a frustrating aspect of the writing process, many of us identified with the latter being an all-too-common foe.
An interesting discussion sprung out of a quote shared from The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield:
“Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”
There’s no universal fix for writer’s block or the fears that accompany any artistic endeavor, but remember—the pen is mightier than the sword. Keep writing.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Return of the Westside Writers Mingle: Conference Highlights & Writing Tips

by Rebecca Light

After a two-month hiatus, the Westside Lit Mingle reconvened in September at the Santa Monica Library. The evening was spent sharing highlights from the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles, as well as general writing tips.

There are many events approaching rapidly on the SCBWI calendar, such as Writers & lllustrators Day and the Working Writer’s Retreat. Specifics for SCBWI events can be found on the SCBWI Los Angeles website.

Buzzing with excitement after discussing so many upcoming opportunities, Laurie focused the room with a writing prompt. Given the word “chair,” we took five minutes to free-write in silence, followed by readings from a few brave souls willing to share their impromptu works. The group was treated to a humorous poem, a thriller with a surprising twist, a semi-or-possibly-not-at-all true account of the history of musical chairs, and a comedy—all with one thing in common. A chair. Laurie used this exercise to exemplify one of her favorite moments at the SCBWI conference, when Jon Klassen told the story of an art professor who gave an assignment to a room full of students worried about finding their own style. He instructed them to draw a blue square, and the class consequently produced a room full of entirely unique squares in varying shades of blue. Both the blue square story and Laurie’s writing prompt give excellent reminders to not concern ourselves with whether our content is original or whether we have found our voice. Write what you are compelled to write and how you are compelled to write, and you will end up with an exceptional blue square. 

The discussion continued with more valuable tidbits from the conference. Highlights included Neil Shusterman’s strategies for imaginary world-building, Bruce Coville’s breakout on plot development, and Sophie Blackall’s illuminated adventures in research and collecting. We also touched on the state of children’s publishing from a business standpoint, which is given in a briefing every year at the summer conference. In a much abbreviated nutshell, kidlit remains alive and well.

The Mingle discussion then broadened to writing tips in general, from the conference or anywhere else. One Mingler shared advice from Bruce Coville, who advises writers to utilize all the senses to give their work dimension. Another shared the innovative idea to save your manuscript as an iTunes track and hear it read back to you. Upon mention of the word Scrivener, a perennial love for the writing software quickly percolated through the room.

It was a hearty return to our monthly Mingle. Please join us next month as we discuss “Writer’s Block and Fear,” appropriate topics for an October mingle, inching close to Halloween. Scary! Fear not, we’ll tackle them together. See you in October!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

San Fernando Valley June LitMingle - Marketing 101 with Cindy Marcus

Agents and bookstores, and promotion, oh my! Marketing our work just feels overwhelming, and kind of scary. After all, we are writers, not promoters. But in today's market, we need to know how to sell, even if we haven't finished that manuscript. 

At the June San Fernando Valley LitMingle, Santa Clarita Valley LitMingler, Cindy Marcus, author of three nonfiction books and dozens of published plays and musicals, shared her doable approach to marketing in her insightful presentation, Marketing 101, or as she refers to it, Marketing .5. Cindy's technique can be summed up in one three-letter word— FUN! Of course, FUN is to be expected from someone with her theatrical background. 

Cindy believes that if you build your marketing platform, they will come. Even if you're pre-published, Cindy believes marketing yourself, your hobbies, your interests, etc., can develop a place holder for your success.  

How do you do that? Well, I can't possibly do Cindy's presentation justice in this blog post, but I will share a few highlights:
  • Find a platform that's FUN to you, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and spend ten minutes a day having FUN.
  • Use the 70-20-10 rule when posting:
    • 70% content your market cares about.
    • 20% about you and/or other personal things
    • 10% about what you're selling. 
  • Find your online audience, i.e. Augmented Reality, Graffiti Art, Origami,  etc., and market yourself to it. (This is especially beneficial if your book just happens to be about this very topic.) Find where they meet and join in the conversation. 
  • Ask yourself the following: 
    • What does my market want to know about this topic?
    • What could I share something that would make their life better?
    • How can I share it in a way that would be fun? Recipes? Tips?  
  • Approach your audience like you would research for a book character. 
    • Who are they? What do they need? Want? What matters to them? When you find the answers, share them with your online audience. 
  • Build a community within your community. 
    • Cindy recommends starting with six people who support each other by retweeting, regramming, and sharing online information. 
Cindy acknowledged the apprehension most writers feel about marketing, but to quote author Joanne Kraft, Not all marketing people are writers, but all writers must learn to be marketers. 

Thank you, Cindy, for sharing your marketing insight and helping the San Fernando Valley LitMinglers learn how to have FUN while marketing their craft.

Note: The San Fernando Valley LitMingle will be on summer break in July and August. San Fernando Valley Monthly LitMingles will resume Monday, September 26. For more details about this, and other SCBWI LitMingles, check out the SCBWI LitMingle Calendar.