Want to write and maybe even see your work published, but don’t feel like you have the time? Well, good news: You do. That is, if you have ten minutes to spare, you do.
The Life in 10 Minutes method of writing encourages people to set a timer for ten minutes–that’s all–and just write. You can work from a prompt, or just write whatever comes out. The only thing that matters is that you write. For ten minutes. And then you stop. Don’t overthink it. Don’t over-edit it. Don’t apologize for it. Just write it.
In addition to providing you with a way to make sure you write each day, if only for ten minutes, Life in 10 Minutes offers workshops for writers of all levels, from all backgrounds, throughout the year. Over the winter months, I participated in one of these workshops, and I highly recommend it to any writers looking to work with like-minded people, channel their creativity, experiment, learn, and receive immediate and personalized feedback.
Life in 10 Minutes also provides a platform for writers to publish their 10s (pieces they wrote using the Life in 10 Minutes method described above) online. You can read samples of other writers’ 10s here. (Shameless self-promotion: You can find my 10 here.)
The newest development in the Life in 10 Minutes world is the anthology, both digital and print, which has a publication goal of October 2016. Submissions are due by July 15, 2016, and guidelines can be found here. Here are the basics:
Hand write one, two, or three 10s. Pieces between 100 and 600 words will be given priority.
Type up your 10(s), editing (not butchering–be gentle; the piece should be raw and honest and organic) as you type.
Here’s a list of the Big 5 US Publishing Houses, their submission requirements and links to submission details. I’ve also included at the end of the list two smaller US Publishers that I have submitted to in the past (received real feedback!) I thought they would serve as good examples of what’s out there if you decide to try the smaller publishers.
I happened across the word “kalopsia” while browsing Facebook a few weeks ago. Someone had posted a status update about a graphic dictionary, and “kalopsia” was among the words included. Said graphic dictionary defines the word as:
“delusion of things being more beautiful than they are.”
When I looked the word up on dictionary.com, I got a list of words I might have meant instead. When I checked on merriam-webster.com, the same thing happened, along with this message:
“The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.”
In a third attempt to learn a little more about this apparently obscure word I was starting to think might not even be real, I simply googled it. While it is absent from dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com, “kalopsia” does appear in the Urban Dictionary. There, its definitions include “condition wherein things appear more beautiful than they are” and “believing that everything that you do not have is better than what you do have,” among references to a death metal band out of New Jersey.
So, there you have it. Decide for yourself. Is “kalopsia” a real word, or isn’t it? Either way, you have been linguistically empowered. Go forth with your new word (or not, if you’ve conclude it’s actually not a word).
I arrived at the Writing Show at 6:51, six minutes after the 6:45 start time. The lobby of the Firehouse Theater (the venue for the Writing Show) was empty, the 6 o’clock social hour in the lobby having already morphed into the presentation and moved into the auditorium. Someone from James River Writers quietly and warmly led me to what seemed to be the very last seat in the very first row. I didn’t get a program because they had already given away all 76 of them. I sat down gratefully, and settled in, optimistic that I would learn a few things I could apply to my own novel-in-progress. Despite my tardiness, my optimism was rewarded. Below, I share my lessons with you.
On Finding the Emotional Truth
As writers, part of our job is making sure our writing resonates with our readers. The most effective way to achieve this goal is to make sure our work elicits genuine emotions, and provides characters our readers can relate to. To keep a reader interested, we must make sure to hold their emotional attention–our readers must be emotionally invested in our characters. They have to cheer for them, cry with them, laugh with them. But how can we create characters and situations that foster this type of character-reader connection?
Ms. Johnson advised that writers get themselves out of the way and listen to their characters. After you have your basic story idea figured out, she recommended you write character bios that include the characters’ vulnerabilities, what they want, and what they are willing to do to get it. She also reminded us that “the best fiction comes from truth.”
Ms. Blankman said we need to ask ourselves: What one thing matters to the character most, and how can you threaten the safety of that one thing? She also advised to be careful to begin at the right part of the story. Make sure to reveal the character before he embarks on his emotional journey and change. What is he like before he starts to change? She cautions us not to start too late, but instead to allow our reader to meet the character before the story arc begins.
Ms. Moran, who spoke largely about nonfiction, reminded us that fiction rules also apply to nonfiction. She says her rule of thumb for plot is: It starts bad, gets worse, and then gets resolved.
On Achieving Emotional Variance
Our hostess, Robin Farmer, introduced this topic by explaining that one of the most common mistakes new novelists make is creating a protagonist who is too unhappy. Or too happy. Or too angry. Or too bitter. In short, new novelists sometimes create a character who is dominated by one character trait or mood, and is thus somewhat flat and static. Emotional variance, however, refers to the variety and spectrum of emotions people feel. In one day, even the most stable person likely experiences multiple emotions, ranging from concern to serenity, from fear to calm, from contentment to frustration.
Ms. Moran’s advise was simple: Your character needs to be likable before she is miserable.
Ms. Blankman said she often creates an emotional checklist for her characters. One technique she uses is color coding. She assigns a certain color to each emotion, and then goes through her draft, highlighting or changing font colors accordingly. “You want a rainbow,” she said, indicating that a variety of colors implies balanced and believable emotional variance in your character.
In addition to color coding her drafts, Ms. Blankman discussed the method of creating what she termed a “peaks and valleys graph” by chapter or section. She describes plotting points on a graph according to high points (positive emotions) and low points (negative emotions). This visual can help you get a sense for how often your character is happy and how often she is sad–as well as the intensity of the joy or sorrow. A higher point would indicate a higher intensity of elation. A lower point, a deeper pit of gloom. Ideally, your chart would show several peaks and valleys, indicating you have achieved emotional variance.
Ms. Johnson advises that the character’s emotion should change with each plot point in the outline of your story. She also recommends considering your own emotions throughout the day and “following the rhythm of life.”
On Knowing When You Are Done
While our ultimate goal is to always have that finished, polished piece, ready to send out for publication, or maybe just share with close friends and family, it can be very difficult to discern when a piece you have been working on is done–or at least as done as it’s going to get. The three authors on the panel explain how they decide when they are done below.
Ms. Johnson described the feeling of being done as reading her work, and experiencing the sensation that someone else wrote it. She describes how the hair on her arms will stand up and says it seems as though the finished piece is “singing” to her. She knows she is done when she has nothing left to say. She also cautions us not to let our egos get in the way. Do not think, “I have to get the story out right.” Instead, realize that you are merely a conduit for the story. Sit down. Listen. Write.
Ms. Blankman admits that she can often revise until she can no longer see her story clearly, and it becomes too familiar. She reads it so many times, she can no longer tell if it’s good or not. When she reaches this point, she either puts the piece away for a while, or sends it to a trusted critique partner.
She also advises that we need to do terrible things to our characters, and make them suffer.
Ms. Moran’s advice follows closely to the last tidbit from Ms. Blankman. To ascertain whether or not her work is finished, she asks herself the following questions:
Have I gone deep enough?
Does this hurt badly enough?
I let my character suffer, fail, take risks. Can I make it worse?
If she can answer yes to the first two and no to the last one, she is done. If not, she has more work to do.
On What to Avoid
It is one thing to make sure we are doing everything we should be doing, and quite another to make sure we aren’t doing everything we shouldn’t be doing. Here are some “don’t’s.”
Ms. Blankman warns us not to be too easy on our characters. She also recommends reading books we don’t like, figuring out why we don’t like them, and then not doing whatever that is.
Ms. Moran cautions us not to focus solely on an external or an internal conflict. The best writing incorporates both.
On Books We Can Learn From
You may have heard the adage, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Surely it is solid advice to say that one can become a much better writer through reading good authors. Below are some recommendations from the panel.
Ms. Johnson has two requirements for books she reads: 1) they must entertain her, and 2) they must teach her something. She recommends reading Kitchen Houseby Kathleen Grissom and Diane Whetstone’s Lazaretto.
Navigating the waters of publishing can be tricky. What are the steps? Who are the people? How do I do this? The unfortunate truth, and the reason why this process is so tricky, is: It’s different for everyone. Here is how our panelists have followed their pathways to publication.
Ms. Johnson recommends hiring an outside editor, one not affiliated with a publisher, because they have more time to work with you than an in-house editor might.
Ms. Blankman works with an in-house editor through Harper Collins, but says she has her manuscript pretty polished before her editor ever sees it. After she sends the work in, her editor responds with an editorial letter, which usually starts by listing all the piece’s virtues, and ends by explaining what needs to be improved or addressed. Ms. Blankman has never hired an outside editor, but she does share her work with trusted critique partners, and her agent is a former editor.
Ms. Moran advises that writers of young adult literature may not need to hire an outside editor. Because YA literature is so popular right now, a YA piece is likely to receive a lot of attention from in-house editors.Literary fiction, not so much–so if that’s what you write, you might want to consider finding your own outside editor. Lastly, Ms. Moran says you are wise to “invest in help.”
On Cutting Copy
Cutting copy is one of the most challenging parts of the writing process. How do you know what to cut and what to keep? What if you feel you must cut something you love? We all know the pain of trimming down our work.
Johnson laughed as she said that what she was about to advise us to do, “none of you are gonna wanna do.” She was right, but it seems good advice, nonetheless. As part of her revising process, Ms. Johnson re-types every single draft. She prints it; reads it, taking notes as she goes; and then retypes it. This is helpful in cutting copy she says, because “you’ll only want to retype the good stuff.” If you find yourself thinking, as she sometimes does, “I’d rather kill myself than retype this paragraph over again,” you might not need that paragraph.
Ms. Blankman reminds us to trust our readers. They don’t need the entire backstory. Let them fill in blanks while you drop clues for the first couple of chapters, or use flashback. She also advises not to use a prologue to tell backstory. The other authors concurred: prologues are often one of the first things an editor or publisher will cut.
Give flashback and backstory when you need it to move forward. In other words, write your story forward until yo must go backward in order to go forward again.
Ms. Moran’s very straightforward advice was that most writers will end up needing to cut the first 40 to 130 pages of their manuscript.
While our readers may not need to know every little detail of our characters’ lives, in order to tell an accurate, honest, and believable story, we do. Here is some advice on getting to know your characters.
Write a letter to and from your character, or hold an imaginary conversation with your character.
Write a scene where the main character isn’t the main character, a scene told from a different character’s point of view, as if he or she were actually the protagonist.
Consider all the mundane details of your character–from the kind of car she drives to the kinds of clothes in her closet. And read Robert Ray’s The Weekend Novelist.
If you’ve ever been to Richmond, Virginia, then you already know: We are a party city. We are the third most-tattoed city in the United States, just behind Miami and Las Vegas. We are fast becoming the craft beer capital of the world. And we throw a festival (or ten) almost every single weekend. This weekend alone, I attended Dominion Riverrock, an outdoor
During my time at the festival, I was privileged to hear readings and lectures from Robert Arthur, the current Poetry Society of Virginia President; Nathan Richardson, a performance poet and workshop teacher for Hampton Roads Youth Poets; Gabriele Glang, a bilingual poet who teaches creative writing in Germany; and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, who was the Virginia Poet Laureate from 2006-2008. This post will provide take-aways from the lectures and workshops led by Mr. Richardson, as well as by Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda.
The Oral Tradition of Poetry, Nathan Richardson
The first lecture I heard focused on performance poetry, and was led by Nathan Richardson, himself a performance poet. One thing he said that struck me was this:
“Memory proved over the history of mankind to be the only fullproof [sic] method of safeguarding the thoughts, history, culture, literature, and law of the human race.”
How right he is, though it’s frightening, given how feeble our memories sometimes seem.
But even more fallible are hard drives that can crash, flash drives that can break or become lost, papers that can tear or burn, ink that can smudge, lead that can be erased. Even pictures carved into rock will someday erode, smoothed out by the work of wind and water. For me, this was something of a wakeup call. I always feel like my creations are far more secure once written down on paper or typed up on the screen. But if I lose that paper, or if that flash drive fails me, I will wish I had committed my own lines to memory.
An additional lesson I took away from Mr. Richardson’s lecture was a definition of the musical genre of rap. I was unaware, as were, it seemed, all the other poets in attendance, that the term “rap” was born of the combination of “rhythm and poetry.” It’s essentially an acronym. I also learned that one “bar” of a “rap” piece is equivalent to one couplet in a poem.
His advice for poets was simple: “In poetry, leave space for the reader’s imagination.”
He also provided guidelines for poets who need to cultivate a poetic voice for poetry readings and slams. While the ratio does not necessarily need to follow this exact formula, Mr. Richardson advises that the poetic voice consists of 33.3% experience, 33.3% vocabulary, 33.3% passion, and .1% divine intervention. What does this imply for you if you want to become involved in performance poetry? It means first, that you must perform poetry–as much and as often as you can. Attend and perform at poetry slams and readings. Get the experience. It implies second that you must increase the number of words with which you are proficient–you must become more fluent in your own first language. Improve your vocabulary. It means also that you must love what you are doing–love what you are creating, love what you are saying. Be dedicated and passionate. Lastly, though, it means that a small percentage of what you are doing as a performance poet is out of your control. The words, the ideas, the rhymes will just come to you through some sort of divine intervention. You just have to do the leg work–the other 99.9%–first.
Ekphrastic and Collaborative Poetry, Gabriele Glang and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda
One of the foci of Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was the haiku. Before we began writing, Ms. Glang gave a few guidelines.
Do not mention the season about which you are writing. The image you convey with your words should make clear the season.
Always title your piece, and title it well. Think of a title as a free line with no syllabic restrictions.
Save syllables in the following ways:
avoid articles; use plural nouns instead
replace conjunctions with punctuation
the em dash can communicate change, epiphany, turning points
“ah!” can signify epiphany or surprise
After providing us with these guidelines, Ms. Glang displayed a painting of her own creation, called “A Touch of Spring (Pink-Green),” pictured left, and we were given a few minutes to compose a haiku using the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 structure.
The second exercise we completed in this workshop was writing a Ligne Donnee, or “given line” poem. We were paired up with another poet in the room and provided an art card that displayed one of Ms. Glang’s paintings. The art card my partner and I received is pictured below. Each of us then wrote just the first line of a poem, inspired by the art card. Then, we traded first lines with our partner. From there, we read our partner’s first line, and wrote a poem
based on that initial line.
My first line was:
Quicksilver cold stealing sunlight from the sky, icy, metallic sheen
The final exercise we completed in Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was another type of collaborative poem, kasen renku. Within this form, the first poet composes a haiku (three lines in the traditional 5-7-5 format). The second poet reads it, and then composes two lines of seven syllables each. A third poet (or the first poet) reads the first five lines, and adds his or her own haiku. A fourth poet (or the second poet) reads what has so far been accomplished, and adds to it another two lines of seven syllables each. This process is repeated until the poem consists of thirty-six stanzas. This, along with the Ligne Donnee form, would make an excellent classroom activity for an English or creative writing class.
I so thoroughly enjoyed the Poetry Society of Virginia’s Poetry Festival and Conference, that I plan to attend future conferences, and am contemplating membership. Attendance allowed me to meet like-minded people, as well as produce a few new pieces of poetry. I also gained exposure to some very creative and productive poets. I learned about resources in my community, and came away with a few new lessons plans for my English classroom.
Vernon Wildy, Jr. is a Richmond, Virginia-based, self-published author who has managed to complete two novels and begin a third while juggling a full-time job, along with many other obligations. His first novel is entitledNice Guys Finish Last, and his most-recently completed work, which is not yet published, is entitled Reunion at McBryde Hall. It takes place with a backdrop of Virginia Tech. He also recently began working on a third novel, a sequel to Nice Guys Finish Last. On a recent Saturday morning, Mr. Wildy and I spent a leisurely hour and a half soaking up the sun on the patio of Urban Farmhouse, talking craft, creativity, and community. Below is our conversation.
Mind the Dog: Where did you get your inspiration and idea for Nice Guys Finish Last?
Vernon Wildy, Jr.: Hanging out with my friends. A lot of the material came from things I saw or heard when we went out to clubs and get-togethers. I heard a lot of things that made me think, “Where did that come from? I’ve got to write this down!”
MTD: How long did it take you to write it? To self-publish it?
VW: I worked on it off and on for about six years. In the interim, I went back to college for my MBA and changed jobs. Once I got all of that together, it freed up time to finish it and pursue its publication. Since I’d earned my degrees, I thought, “Let’s chase after some other goals.” Publishing took over a year. It was a matter of finding a publisher, having it edited, getting all the information together. Getting the cover designed was a nightmare. The first version looked like an Abercrombie and Fitch advertisement, which isn’t my vibe. My painter friend came up with the cover art and my editor agreed that it fit. I am looking to eventually, by the end of year or the start of next year, get it to paperback.
MTD: What did you enjoy (or not!) about the writing and self-publishing process?
VW: I should have gotten more information and found out about more places to go. Looking back, I so wanted it done, that I made the decision too quickly. If I had been more patient, I might have gotten a better product and better marketing opportunities. I didn’t know about Amazon doing their own publishing, or about self-publishing through Ingram-Spark.
MTD: How many edits/drafts did the book go through before publication, and what was the editing process like?
VW: Three different drafts. I could’ve done more, but I got to the point where I was tired of looking at my own story. Lulu offered editing, but it was expensive. Then I met Kris Spisak, through James River Writers, who did the edits.
MTD: What did you learn that will help you with your next novel?
VW: I am in the final stages of my second novel and just stated my third. My main
take-away is to take care of your characters. Keep them consistent and give them space. I don’t like stories where characters fit right into stereotypes. I don’t want cookie-cutter characters. Treat them as real people with real emotions. Give them conflicts and choices.
MTD: Tell me about your next novel.
VW: The second one is Reunion at McBryde Hall. I used Virginia Tech as my backdrop. It’s a story I’ve been playing with for quite some time. It’s a reunion of two people who have not seen each other since they graduated twenty years ago. It takes them back to their relationship to each other, and with the university. It describes how they split apart and the lives they lead and what got them to that point. Romance plays a part, as does race. There is an interracial component in their relationship, as well as a discussion of the dynamic of expectations of the communities that they come from. At college, you learn there are other ways of viewing the world, and other expectations.
MTD: How did you become interested in writing romance novels?
VW: I didn’t. My real goal was to create a new men’s fiction genre, but I ran into a lot of road blocks. When I pitched Reunion at a one-on-one session with an agent at the James River WritersAnnual Conference, she labeled it contemporary romance. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around it. I re-pitched it at Pitch-a-Palooza at the conference and the crowd went nuts. It took me about a year to finally embrace writing contemporary romance. I don’t like the way the genre is stereotyped. There are very few men there and the stories are catered towards women. My characters are male-centric. They talk like men. They have feelings like men. They pursue women like men.
MTD: You have a full-time job in sales. How do you make sure to find time to write?
VW: Time management is key. My job requires a lot of time. It’s not an 8-5 job. I work early mornings and late evenings. What’s important for me is to make sure that I set enough time aside to write. I tell myself, “At this time I am going to write.” I do that every morning. I get up around 5:00 every morning and I write for about an hour and half, get ready for work, and go to work. On weekends, I try to get better at telling people no.
MTD: What do you like about writing, and how did you discover your love for writing?
VW: I have been writing since high school. It started out with discovering hip-hop and journalism at the same time. I then wrote for my high school newspaper. The ability to tell stories and use them to tell how you feel about things appealed to me. When I was working on my Bachelor’s degree in engineering in college, writing was a break from my coursework. After college, I thought, “Oh, I’m just gonna work and be successful.” But then I got laid off. Writing helped me figure out what the heck just happened, and what to do next.
MTD: Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book? Why?
VW: Walter Mosley is my favorite author. I love several of his works. I love the pace of his stories. I love how there is conflict within the male protagonists. There are things they must discover about themselves. He does that through mystery, erotica, and science-fiction.
MTD: What do you wish I would have asked you that I haven’t asked you yet?
VW: I would have liked if you had asked me about my relationship with other writers. Having other writer-relationships has really helped me because I don’t have an English and writing background. When I’m with other writers, they throw out authors and devices and tools and it has been quite a learning experience. I was not a part of that world until I joined James River Writers. I’ve been science-based. My sales job has nothing to do with creating writing. It’s technology-based. Networking with other writers has helped me gain exposure to people who are in that world.
MTD: What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
VW: Tell your story. Don’t get caught up with what’s in the market. Don’t get caught up with what people say is popular. If you have a story, go with it. Don’t be afraid to tell it or journey with your characters. I heard a great thing recently: The key to getting published is to write something good. If you have a good story, someone will want to read it.
Mind the Dog would like to sincerely thank Vernon Wildy, Jr. for taking time out of his busy schedule to participate in this interview.
An adjective, “vespertine” means “thriving during the evening” or “pertaining to the evening.” It can be used in reference to plants whose blooms open in the evening as opposed to during the day, as well as to nocturnal animals. It can also be used to describe anything that occurs in the evening–sunset, twilight, a certain type of light, a soft breeze, a certain sound specific to the coming night.
Below are some photographs that I think fairly illustrate the spirit of the word “vespertine,” as well as captions that utilize the word in a sentence.
This word would be an exceptional one to add imagery to a scene, as well as to establish its time of day and the mood. Employ it! You have been linguistically empowered.