On Being a Lifetime Writer by Amber Royer

In addition to working with adult writers and being an author in my own right, I teach teen writing camps and classes.  These groups are special to me because I often see bits of myself in various young writers.  I remember being that cocky, self-assured writer who thought that she knew everything and was alive and electrified with the sheer power of WORDS.  I also remember feeling overwhelmed, writing my way out of dark moments and using poetry to try and make sense of the world.  And yes, I remember wanting so badly to communicate with people, to let them know I was ready to be an adult.

There are as many reasons writers of any age take up pen or keyboard as there are writers.  A love of reading, which may spark fan fiction because the characters are so ALIVE in the fan writer’s imagination.  The burning desire to tell stories, because characters keep whispering that they want to live and breathe and act.  A need to be remembered by generations in the future, that the writer himself lived and that life meant something.  A personal cause the writer wants to highlight and bring awareness to.  Even just the desire to entertain others.

But once you start writing, something changes.  Often, you find that the pieces you create help you psychologically, whether you ever show it to anyone else or not.  It becomes a positive coping mechanism.  This works for fiction as well as nonfiction writing.

Shakespeare said, “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break.”

Fiction allows us to feel these feelings – grief and otherwise – in a safe environment.  It isn’t US going through the aftermath of some kind of trauma, or navigating a first love, or trying to figure out where we fit in the world.  It’s someone else.  Some guy who’s going through something maybe a little bit similar.  Or some gal who’s our complete opposite – allowing us to escape our problems in a psychologically specific way.

I wrote my first novel in high school.  It was horrible.  I knew I wanted to tell a mystery, but I didn’t have much of a clue myself how to do it.  So there were a bunch of characters bumbling around acting and talking pretty much like my actual friends.

But then one of my favorite teachers died.  I had been a journalism student since freshman year, and she was the advisor, and she had helped me get a perspective on both writing and life.  The concept of death terrified me at the time, and I was just a student.  I didn’t go to the funeral.  I’ve always regretted that.  I had NO IDEA how to cope.  I wrote a bunch of poems about death and dying.  And then a year or two later, I wrote a short story that won the contest at the Golden Triangle Writer’s Guild conference, and was subsequently published in Byline magazine.  There was power to it, and truth, looking at the horror of cancer from the sidelines, in the POV of a character who feels powerless to help anyone.

It took me a good decade to recognize WHY that story was so powerful, when many of my other fictions failed to connect with readers.  But it was because it was honest.  It was me, processing uncomfortable emotions on the page.  We talk a lot about catharsis in the re reader – but it happens in the writer too.

This makes writing a lifetime sport.  It can become a daily practice, as natural as breathing, or something sporadic, when ideas hit and need to be followed up on.  Either way, writing reduces stress, keeps the brain active, helps with vocabulary building and teaches empathy.

In writing my Chocoverse books, which are over-the-top space opera, I found that comedy had to be balanced with some deeper real meaning.  These characters had to be going through uncomfortable emotional moments, dealing with authentic interpersonal relationships and psychologically realistic interpersonal conflicts.  That understanding comes from a lifetime of studying craft.

I’m always excited to help new writers take their first steps on their own journey.

How to Stop Procrastination

Writers are notorious procrastinators. One will look for any excuse not to write, but when you step into a bookstore you realize that your favorite writers finished their work. Sure, they may have procrastinated along the way, but at some point they got down to brass tacks and got to THE END.

The dream of publication is an intoxicant that keeps many writers in the chair. So how do the pros overcome the desire to clean the house, to return overdue library books, to do the grocery shopping and file their taxes early, all in an effort to avoid writing? Well, an article in the Harvard Business Review has a few ideas on how to beat procrastination (link to full article at the end):

It’s all about rebalancing the cost-benefit analysis: make the benefits of action feel bigger, and the costs of action feel smaller. The reward for doing a pestering task needs to feel larger than the immediate pain of tackling it. - Caroline Webb

In her article, Caroline Webb suggested you can overcome procrastination by doing the following, and if you’re following along at home want to know if these techniques work, the simple answer is yes. Give them a try:

  • Visualize how great it will be to get it done.

  • Pre-commit, publicly.

  • Confront the downside of inaction.

  • Identify the first step.

  • Tie the first step to a treat.

  • Remove the hidden blockage.

Patiently ask yourself a few “why” questions—“why does it feel tough to do this?” and “why’s that?”—and the blockage can surface quite quickly. Often, the issue is that a perfectly noble competing commitment is undermining your motivation. - Caroline Webb

You can read Caroline’s full article here. And if you’re thinking about finally putting an end to your procrastinating ways, joining a community of writers is a great next step. Check out our classes (In-Person & Online) in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Screenwriting via the button below.

Character Questionnaire with Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire

French author Marcel Proust invented this questionnaire to get closer to his characters. If you want to discover who your characters are try to answer all or some of the questions below. Consider it an interview between you and your character(s):

  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?

  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?

  • What is your current state of mind?

  • What is your favorite occupation?

  • What is your most treasured possession?

  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?

  • What is your favorite journey?

  • What is your most marked characteristic?

  • When and where were you the happiest?

  • What is it that you most dislike?

  • What is your greatest fear?

  • What is your greatest extravagance?

  • Which living person do you most despise?

  • What is your greatest regret?

  • Which talent would you most like to have?

  • Where would you like to live?

  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

  • What is the quality you most like in a man?

  • What is the quality you most like in a woman?

  • What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

  • What is the trait you most deplore in others?

  • What do you most value in your friends?

  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

  • Whose are your heroes in real life?

  • Which living person do you most admire?

  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

  • On what occasions do you lie?

  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

  • What are your favorite names?

  • How would you like to die?

  • If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

  • What is your motto?

You can bring your characters to life with deadlines and warm readers in one of our 8-week writing workshops (In-Person or Online).

Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Basic Rules of Creative Writing

As craft nerds at Writing Workshops Dallas, we love writing advice and we love Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 basics of Creative Writing. These come from the preface to his story collection Bagombo Snuff Box:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

  5. Start as close to the end as possible.

  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut said the greatest American short story writer of his generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). He said she broke every one of his rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that. And all great writers had to start somewhere. If you’re thinking about joining a community of writers, check out our classes (In-Person & Online) in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Screenwriting via the button below.

What Are Your Long Term Writing Goals?

Do you set achievable goals?

When it comes to starting and finishing long-term writing projects, I don't know how I'd get to THE END without goal setting. Before 2019 gets here start thinking about where you want to be this time NEXT YEAR with your writing.

Goal: the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

Resolution: a firm decision to do or not to do something.

The two definitions are so close to each other, but what I love about goal-setting (as opposed to, say, New Years Resolutions) is there is an aim, a desired result. With resolutions we generally decide to start doing something (like writing more) or stop doing something (like quitting smoking).

But goals force us to measure our ambition, our desired result. Goals hold us accountable to our dreams. For aspiring writers, that generally means writing something that has the chance to be published. Surviving the draft and getting to THE END is the trick.

What is your process for measuring your ambition? For charting your goals? Is it a daily word count? A chapter a week? A rough draft of your manuscript six months from now? Landing an agent? Getting published? Hearing from readers who only know you because of your work?

I like to start with the end point and figure out how to get there. I break goals into actionable steps so I don't get overwhelmed. If I want to write a book I need to start with a first sentence. That sentence leads to a paragraph, to a scene, to a chapter, to a completed rough draft.

What if you're still dreaming about starting or finishing your book at the end of 2019 (a full year from now!)? You will have let another year slip away. Literary community is one way to help keep yourself on track. In the coming year we hope you'll get plugged in somewhere, find a writing group or a critique partner who can hold you accountable to your dreams.

Understand what your desired result is and figure out how to get there. The steps are manageable and the path is clearly before you.

Happy writing!

My best,

Blake Kimzey

Executive Director, Writing Workshops Dallas

NEW: Give a Gift Certificate to Writing Workshops Dallas!

Upcoming Classes: Fiction | Nonfiction | Poetry | Screenwriting | Seminars | Online Online Classes | Teen Classes

Holiday Gift Certificates Now Available at Writing Workshops Dallas!

If you’re looking for a creative gift for the writer in your life, something they’ll love and appreciate, we have the perfect idea for you: a holiday gift certificate good for any of the classes that we offer! In general, we have two options for you, the thoughtful gift-giver:

Seminar Gift Certificate

3-Hour Seminars:

Every Sunday afternoon we offer a seminar on the craft or business of writing. These three-hour classes are great for any writer and we have a great many topics to choose from. Seminar topics are updated weekly and we imagine the writer in your life will have fun deciding which seminar to attend. These seminars are $60 for New Students and $45 for Returning Students.

Workshop Gift Certificate

8-Week Workshops:

On a rolling basis throughout the year we offer 8-week workshops in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Screenwriting. These are in-depth classes taught by passionate and talented Instructors. You can see what our students have to say about us in our Testimonials. These workshops are $495 for New Students and $470 for Returning Students. We also have the option to buy a half workshop gift certificate.

You’ll be prompted to enter the name of the writer you’re buying the gift certificate for at checkout. Upon receipt of your purchase, we will send you a gift certificate voucher good for the seminar or workshop of choice for the writer in your life. And, we imagine, they’ll never forget the time you got them the one gift they really want.

If you have any questions about our gift certificates, feel free to contact us HERE. Thanks for letting us be part of your gift-giving this year!

FREE NaNoWriMo Write-Ins in November!

Free NoNoWriMo Write Ins.png

Writing Workshops Dallas is hosting 4 free NaNoWriMo Write-Ins on Thursdays in November, except Thanksgiving, from 6:30-10PM at The Drawing Board in Richardson, TX.

  • November 1st

  • November 8th

  • November 15th

  • November 29th

These Write-Ins are Free to attend, of course. Just let us know you’re coming. RSVP below.

Name *
Name
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Check the dates you'll attend:

Legal Issues for Writers with Mike Farris

Legal Issues For Writers

Sunday, December 16, 2018 - 3:00PM TO 6:00PM

Doesn't matter if you write books, articles, or screenplays, every writer must negotiate a minefield of legal issues on the road to publication or production.  Attorney Mike Farris, an expert in this field, will guide you through that minefield, addressing common questions that all writers have, plus some you may never have thought of.  Topics will include:

  • How, and why, to register your copyright

  • What is copyright infringement?

  • What is the “public domain”?

  • Defamation, invasion of privacy, and the right of publicity

  • The agency agreement

  • The publishing contract

  • How to obtain life rights

  • The option/purchase agreement for film rights/screenplays

  • How to protect your work when pitching to film producers

  • Collaboration agreements and works-for-hire

About Attorney Mike Farris: Mike was lead attorney in the Fifty Shades of Grey litigation in Fort Worth that resulted in a $13.25 million judgment in favor of his client.  He negotiated the sale of film rights to The Free State of Jones for his client The University of North Carolina Press, which was made into a major motion picture starring Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey and directed by multi-time Oscar nominee Gary Ross. Film rights to Mike's Hawaiian true crime book, A Death in the Islands: The Unwritten Law and the Last Trial of Clarence Darrow, have been optioned by Aaron and Jordan Kandell, two of the writers on the Disney hit Moana. Mike's next true crime book, Poor Innocent Lad: The Tragic Death of Gill Jamieson and the Execution of Myles Fukunaga, set in the Territory of Hawaii in 1928-1929, is set for release later this year. Mike is also the author of seven published novels, including thrillers such as The Bequest and Manifest Intent, and the Hawaiian historical fiction Isle of Broken Dreams.

Fee: $60 or $45 for former/current students | Live Stream Available!

  • Mike Farris, Presenter

  • Sunday, December 16, 2018 - 3:00PM to 6:00PM

  • Seminar meets at The Drawing Board at 75 & Campbell: 1900 Jay Ell Dr / Richardson, TX / 75081

  • Live Stream is available for students who live outside of Dallas. Just let us know when you register.

Click the button below to register for the seminar. Contact us HERE if you have any questions about this seminar.

Weekend Flash Sale: 15% Off @ Writing Workshops Dallas

We're having a weekend Flash Sale good for 15% Off any of our upcoming 8-Week classes that start this month. We've got great courses to choose from in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Screenwriting, and Online Classes. Just use discount code FLASH at checkout.

If you've already enrolled in one of our 8-week classes starting in October, we'd love for you to be our guest at an upcoming Seminar of your choosing. Simply contact us HERE and tell us which Seminar you'd like to attend for free (in-person or live stream).

How to Write Science Fiction that Sells with Nebula Award winning author William Ledbetter

How to Write Science Fiction that Sells

Sunday, November 4, 2018 - 3:00PM TO 6:00PM

Anyone can write tales about robots and aliens, but does that really make it science fiction? The truth is modern readers and publishers of written science fiction are much more sophisticated and demanding than those in the days of bug-eyed monsters and scantily clad space pirate queens. Come join our discussion about how you can avoid these worst tropes and stereotypes, why you don't have to be a scientist to write good science fiction, get tips and shortcuts for researching the science in your story and learn why written science fiction is quite different than what you watch on TV and in movies.

Instructor William Ledbetter is a Nebula Award winning author with more than sixty speculative fiction stories and non-fiction articles published in markets such as Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Analog. He's been a space and technology geek since childhood and spent most of his non-writing career in the aerospace and defense industry. He lives near Dallas with his wife, a needy dog and two spoiled cats. His new novel "Level Five" is available from Audible Originals. Learn more at www.williamledbetter.com

Fee: $60 or $45 for former/current students | Live Stream Available!

  • William Ledbetter, Presenter

  • Sunday, November 4, 2018 - 3:00PM to 6:00PM

  • Seminar meets at The Drawing Board at 75 & Campbell: 1900 Jay Ell Dr / Richardson, TX / 75081

  • Live Stream is available for students who live outside of Dallas. Just let us know when you register.

Click the button below to register for the seminar. Contact us HERE if you have any questions about this seminar.

Turning Real Life into Unreal Ideas by Ethan Chatagnier

Finding your material in the real world doesn’t mean finding only realist ideas. Science-fiction prophets, fantasy wizards, and genre-bending literary writers can benefit just as much from real-world inputs as slice-of-life literary realists. Perhaps even more.

One of my favorite examples of this is Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 film District 9. It’s a movie with aliens, futuristic weapons, a mech suit, and a mysterious gene-editing fluid. What makes the idea unique is its approach to the aliens: they aren’t visitors, they’re refugees, and the government sets them up in camps and treats them like refugees. So the usual sci-fi question “aliens come to Earth: will they kill us?” is reversed: “aliens come to Earth: will we kill them?”

Blomkamp’s idea didn’t come from space. It came from the news—specifically, from interviews with South Africans about an influx of refugees from Zimbabwe. That link to a real world idea didn’t clip District 9’s wings. Instead, it gave the movie an intense dramatic resonance. Some clips from those interviews even made it into the movie.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy is arguably the most imaginative novel series of our time. He details his inspiration and writing process here but here’s the short version: part of the idea came from a strange dream he had; part came from his reaction to the BP Gulf Oil Spill; the other part, the all important setting, came from walks he took through the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, and the abandoned lighthouse there.

There’s no greater argument for looking to the real world for inspiration. It doesn’t limit you to realist stories. It can spark your wildest imaginings, while at the same time anchoring them to the themes that speak to us. This is what we will be looking at in my ONLINE Workshop: Finding Your Material in the Real World. You can learn more about this 5-week class, in which we will generate ideas for stories, by clicking on the button below. I hope you’ll join us!