Monday, February 25, 2013

Writing Is Hard

By Len Lawson

Writing is hard. You first have to find time to write in your busy schedule, and when you do have time, you have to be in the right mood. Otherwise, you procrastinate, and your time is wasted. Once you finally do get to write what you consider to be your best work (if your friends and your family have not discouraged you into quitting by the time your work is complete), you try to get it published somehow whether in magazines, journals, or by some publishing company. This process is where you decide to just quit on your own.
Publishers will tell you that your work does not suit their needs, or it is not a “good fit” for them. They may simply feel that your work lacks merit or just plain stinks. Next because you can’t get a deal with these publishers, you may decide to self-publish. Following making a substantial financial commitment to the work, you must market yourself and your work continually if you have even a glimmer of hope for a return on your investment. Then, you have to decide, Why am I doing all of this? Is it because you want to be the next John Grisham, James Patterson, or Janet Evanovich? Is it for fame or fortune? Is it because someone told you that you’d be a great writer and that people will read and buy your books? Did they tell you it would be easy?
Well, it’s not easy. It’s hard—every bit of it. However, the ones who survive the rejections and the failure do not neglect their craft for a Saturday night movie or a night out partying away their inspiration. They focus on their craft. They improve their weaknesses, and they maximize their strengths. They seek out other successful writers in their genre and ask them for tips. They cheer on their fellow writers when they succeed instead of finding a reason to justify their own failure.  Successful writers have counted the costs of their profession. They have embraced the struggle. They have decided that their writing means more than momentary fulfillment in activities that ultimately do not culminate in their success. They live for every word they write. They are passionate, vigilant, and unrelenting.
You were misled if you thought this was going to be easy. If you still want to be a writer, the first bit of advice you need is to endure. Writers accept the difficulty and become addicted to their writing habit. Writing is hard, but those who embrace the challenge may reap not only material rewards but also fulfillment for their lives and a claim to their place as a voice in the world amongst their generation.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Structure in Storytelling

Structure in Storytelling
By Chris Mathews

For some of us, writing good sentences is not a challenge. We can do that. We write with flair (we like to think). We know how to color our words with strong nouns and verbs, with sensory details, and with vivid metaphors and similes. The real challenge is to structure our writing so that the reader wants to keep reading our story and not lose his or her way in ornate sentences that meander.

Writers wonder what they can do when they come to a dead-end in their writing, when the muse whispers no more. The answer according to Larry Brooks in Story Engineering is that “…successful stories are as dependent upon good engineering as they are artistry.” For me, this book provided just the recipe I was looking for, especially since my method for writing had always fallen into what Brooks calls pantsing, writing from the seat of your pants without a plan.

When I didn’t know where to go next with a story, my writing would stall out or I would write passages that filled up the pages but did not advance the story. What Brooks recommends is applying screenwriting techniques to build a scaffold for any story, making the story work by blending what he calls the six core competencies: concept, character, theme, structure, scene execution, and writing voice.

He defines concept as the idea that is the springboard for the story, best defined by answering the question “what if?” The answer leads to further “what if?” questions, and the answers become the story. Although concept seems very close to theme to me, it is clearly set apart by Brooks. For Little Red Riding Hood, the concept could have developed by asking, “what if a wolf meets a little girl in the woods who tells him she’s going to her grandmother’s? What if the wolf races ahead to kill the grandmother so he can have a second course—Little Red?.” You can see how concepts for screenplays can be “pitched” to movie studios.

Character is broken down into three dimensions, the first, second, and third. The first dimension of a character is what the reader sees on the surface (he has a hairy face, for the wolf). The second dimension provides the backstory or meaning behind the surface (the wolf is hairy because he is an alcoholic and has let himself go to pot). The third dimension reveals the true nature of the character and includes the character arc, the means of showing character growth (Little Red is na├»ve in telling a stranger too much, but finally puts two and two together).  Brooks is adamant in claiming that the reader must be able to empathize with or root for the main character in the story. He also claims that the protagonist must face conflict if the story is to advance, and he or she must learn something or at least die trying. The structure of the story should change at crucial times as the hero changes from orphan-to-wanderer-to-warrior-to-martyr (here he makes reference to Carol S. Pearson’s The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By).  In an upcoming blog, I will discuss Brooks’ other core competencies of story-telling, and complete an analysis of his techniques in Story Engineering.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Call to Action for SCWW


By Ginny Padgett

For those of you who are unfamiliar with our workshop’s origin, we are a chapter of South Carolina Writers’ Workshop ( All persons over the age of 18 are welcome to visit any chapter and become members of SCWW. The dues are $52.00 per year. Membership fees go toward activities and programs like paying liability insurance for each chapter meeting, maintaining the website where you may share your published works, website and blog page, contests, annual anthology and a nationally recognized writing conference.

Last October, SCWW presented one of its most successful conferences – ask the agents and editors who were faculty for the weekend. Unfortunately the economic climate of the past few years has steadily eroded conference attendance at Myrtle Beach. Even observing the tightest of budgets, for the first time in 22 years the organization ended the year in the red. There just weren’t enough participants to meet expenses. Many writing conferences and other artistic endeavors have been eliminated in the last two to three years. Sadly ours is not an uncommon dilemma these days.

Beginning in January, a fund-raising campaign was launched, including donations by individuals, philanthropists and corporations (including an on-line auction organized and executed by Michelle Johnson of Corvisiero Literary Agency), and has netted about $4,000.00. That amount covers one-third of the deficit. SCWW needs your help in the following ways:

  • Pay your dues on time. All membership fee are due on January 1, 2013, unless you became a new member in 2012.
  • Make a tax-deductible donation. Your contribution will be recognized on the website ( Here is the address and suggested levels of giving or use PayPal at the Donate button at the bottom of the SCWW home page.

SCWW Donations
4840 Forest Drive
Suite 6B, PMB 189
Columbia, SC 29206

$25.00 – Friend
$26.00-$100.00 – Benefactor
$101.00-$200.00 – Sponsor
$201.00-$350.00 – Diamond Sponsor
$351.00-$500.00 – Platinum Sponsor
$501 and up – Angel
·        Contact a business or individual who supports the arts to ask for a financial donation or contact SCWW President Ginny Padgett ( with pertinent information or ideas. Separate categories of giving apply to this group.

The SCWW Board of Directors is working tirelessly to resolve this deficit. Please join the effort. For 22 years SCWW has supported writers and their dreams. Now it’s your turn to lend a hand to SCWW.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Workshop Musings: Why Do I Write?

These are answers from members of our workshop to the question, “Why do you write?”

 Writing began as a way t o defuse overpowering emotions, most of them negative – anger, disappointment, depression. Somehow poems eased the intensity and allowed me to think more rationally.
 My poems distanced me from what ever bothered me. However, in time I discovered that I enjoyed working with words, which can be deceitful as well as honest.
 When I write fiction I experience many adventures.
Bonnie Stanard

 I write because thoughts come to me from God-knows-where that I think might be important to someone else, to those I love, to me.
 I think writing helps me relate to people better as I understand myself better.
 It’s fun. It gives me joy. My parents instilled in me a love for writing.
Chris Mathews

I write as an outlet for my hopes and fears, mostly my fears.
Sarah Herlong

  1. Money
  1. Fame
  1. Attention
  1. Pride
  1. Money
  1. To get some sleep
Re #6: When I get into my writing mode, I wake at all hours to scribble thoughts.
Mike Long

To produce the kinds of stories I like to read and, in so doing, create value for others who also like those kinds of stories.
Also, it’s fun.
Charles Wentworth

 I write to communicate. When I read, I feel close contact with the author. When I write, I hope to communicate some intimate feelings and ideas to my readers. Creative writing is rarified expression.
 Laura Valtorta

  I write because I read, and I see inspiration when I read others’ writing. I have a talent that I must develop in order for my life to be fulfilled. It is my hope that my writing inspires others the way writing inspires me.
Len Lawson

  I write as a creative outlet; however, when I write poetry it is to neutralize emotions I don’t know how to process.
Ginny Padgett