June 28, 2009

Open Your Eyes to the World Around You

By Dorinda Ohnstad

Just got back home from a weekend at the coast with my daughter and niece. We were there for a two-day water polo tournament. To keep me occupied between games, I brought a writing how-to book on characters and viewpoint. When my daughter saw what I was reading, she asked me if I ever stop working. My honest response was, no.

There are a finite number of hours in a day. Too few to allow me sufficient time to do everything that demands my time. Writing constantly competes with those demands. So, when I can, I have to seize the moment and jump in, whether that is to write or study the craft.

Studying the craft includes reading how-to books, but it also means taking the time to study the world around me, from the girls in the pool playing polo to the parents screaming from the bleachers. A walk on the beach at Pismo was an opportunity to people watch, to take in the kids building sand castles, the young couple playing Frisbee, and the pair of black Labradors plunging through the water as the waves rolled onto shore. I took time to inhale the salt air, close my eyes and let the sun warm my face while a gentle breeze ruffled my hair, all the while allowing every tactile sensation to work on overdrive. My brain recorded everything; adding these experiences to my writer’s database.

Paying attention to the details of the world around me is important research. A writer draws on her experiences to be an effective writer. Without worldly experiences and observation a writer’s toolbox would be empty. So, when life calls you away from your computer keyboard, don’t begrudge the time; take advantage of the opportunity and do some research of your own. Whether it is a trip to the grocery store, working your eight-to-five job, or going to your daughter’s water polo games, there is fodder for your writing.

Delve in.

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June 24, 2009

The drug of success

Success is a drug. I found that out when I won my first writing contest with "From the Seat of a Second Grader, My recollection of the Assassination of JFK". I first felt this burning adrenaline sensation begin in my chest, creep up my arms and explode in my head in this nearly psychedelic trip of godness and glory. I leaped about my living room, danced around my husband like a pagan around fire until my husband grabbed a water hose in fear of the house igniting, or possibly taking off into space.

Then I told him what happened.

The next feeling was a slow warmth enveloping me with the smile from the man who has been my constant cheerleader. I have a fan. My number 1.

Next was the evening of celebrating with Ale along with my "Writing Ladies of the Night".

Then, came the sheets of dreams ready to critique.

The time of work.
Good Work

Let me say as a "young" writer to savor those first moments of success. Let them inspire you, but don't be deceived. I am still gestating my first novel. And when I get up in the morning I face the same challenges. House, husband, school, work.....and the list goes marching on. That feeling of success is like an ice cream sunday. Its very filling. But don't let it lead you to inertia.

It is not "THE" success. My book is that number one.

So every day remember the love of your life, your story. Don't make it wait on life. Make life wait on it---at least a little every day. Carve that time into stone and stake your flag. Your story is your mission.

Fulfill it

June 14, 2009

Point of View

Point of View (POV) is the most difficult concept for new writers to grasp.

When I was first writing, my sis read my chapters at a critique group because I couldn't find one near where I lived. They told her to tell me that I didn't understand POV. I told her to find out what they meant, of course I knew what having a POV meant, but not what they were talking about. Even after the explanation, it took me a long, long time to really get it.

If you're writing in first person (I opened the door to the ugliest man I'd ever seen) then, of course, the point-of-view will always remain in that person's point of view.

When you use third person for your main character, you might always stay in that person's viewpoint. When you do that, remember, that person can't know what anyone else is thinking. The best way to keep from having a problem is to climb right inside the viewpoint character's skin and look out through his or her eyes. Write what that person can see, feel, hear, experiences, smells etc.

When you want to use another person's point of view, do it in a new scene. The POV character should always be the person who has the most at stake in a scene. Either let the reader know you're changing POV by starting a new chapter or with a space break of some kind. Use the new person's name right away.

Remember, in real life, you never know what someone else is thinking, no matter how well you know the person. You can guess or surmise or figure out--but you don't really know. That's the same for your POV character.

Romance novels don't always follow this rule, jumping from head to head, most often during a sex scene. If you are writing anything except romance though, you're chances of getting published are much greater if you stick to one POV per scene.


June 8, 2009

Sink or Swim

Writing is hard work. HARD work. There has to be a commitment made to stick your booty in the chair, no matter what. Tv show you wanted to watch? Too bad, TiVo the sucker. A friend calling to chat during your writing time? Invest in caller ID. Your spouse rants and raves about the time you spend in front of the computer? Either tell the man to take a hike or figure out a way to make the situation work.

Life isn't easy and neither is writing. Yeah, you can quote me. Some of the best things in life are the ones we have to strive for. To be a writer, you have be hungry to succeed because there will always be road blocks in the way. Kids, husbands, laundry, General Hospital, friends, cows (don't ask)and the occasional midnight nookie patrol. Life happens. Sh-- happens. Pick yourself up and get back in that chair.

Do or die. Sink or Swim.

I'm new to the big kid's pool, but I've seen enough to know when I spot dead weight. Or rather someone who doesn't have the survivalist mentality to be a writer. They whine, moan, complain and generally, try to suck you down into their vortex of self-pity.


If you're the one putting the time and effort into learning craft, developing your voice and spending every spare minute pounding at the keyboard like Mozart, why would you break your flow to swim with the sinkers who want to mire themselves in writer angst?

I sure don't have the time to hear whining. I've got two toddlers and a husband. My whining quota is full, thank you very much.

Do I sound harsh? Snobby? Well, too bad. I WANT to be a writer. I WANT to be published. I DON"T need to babysit someone who doesn't have the drive to leave the kiddie pool in the first place. The most I'm willing to do offer the same advice given to me. . . SIT YOUR A** IN THE CHAIR AND WRITE!

The tricky thing about progress is- well, dang it, you have to move forward! Ask the right questions, research your work and for heaven's sake, move on. There is angst enough in finding the right word and creating vivid characters. Why give yourself more than needed?

What to do when faced with an energy sucking complainer? Tell them the truth. Tell them to suck it up and write. Tell them to dive into the deep end. Whatever cheesy cliche you can manage. Don't be their enabler. Let someone else fill that role. For yourself and your future success, keep moving forward. Be protective of your writing time because the "posers" are out there, waiting for the easy fix, ie- feed off your hard work.

I'm not saying anyone who isn't as driven as me is a poser, but what I am saying is a true writer isn't stagnent! Practice = Progress. The ones who truly want to learn will step up and they're the ones you want swimming beside you. Don't worry about trying to spot the dead weight in your amidst. They're easy to find. How? Well, they've perfected the art of not listening. Just look for that 'tell' and you'll do fine.