Article

A Published Author Answers Questions About the Writing Life

kathryn-cushman

Author Kathryn “Katie” Cushman

When I restarted my writing life a few years ago, I was hungry to hear from a published author. How interesting it would be, I thought, to learn from a writer who had worked hard to fulfill her dream. So I reached out to a friend.

Katherine “Katie” Cushman is the author of seven women’s fiction novels. Years ago we were discussion group leaders in a community Bible study, and when I reconnected with Katie and asked for an interview, she offered to meet me for Saturday brunch. Somehow, between chauffeuring her daughter, caring for an ailing relative, and thinking about her current book’s editorial deadlines, Katie managed to get to the restaurant first. With wide-open arms, she welcomed me. She had the french toast and I had the pancakes. We both had a good time. Here is the interview from 2012, when Katie had five novels under her belt.

DM: When did you first call yourself a writer?

KC: I’ve always planned to write a novel, but I figured there would come a day when I’d have time. Then my uncle was diagnosed with an incurable cancer and I thought about how that “day” might never come for me. So I began to pray about it, but I didn’t talk to anyone about it. One day, during a phone conversation, my mother asked me what happened to that novel I was going to write. I hadn’t mentioned it to her in years. I knew right then I was going to pursue my writing career. But I didn’t call myself a “writer” until I had a contract. I wrote in almost total secrecy and only a handful of people knew about it, until I announced my first sale. That’s not to say I think you shouldn’t call yourself a writer until you sell something. This is just what I did.

DM: What’s the earliest memory you have of writing a story?

KC: It wasn’t until I had a computer that I actually wrote down a story, besides what I did during my school years. My mind worked too fast for longhand or journaling. I always kept the stories in my head. I’m a fast typist, though, and a computer made it easy to put down all my thoughts.

DM: What is your least favorite part of the writing process?

KC: Outlining, the first drafting of the story. I’d rather write the story, finish, and then take the big picture from that. But my editor has helped me to see how important it is to do this.

DM: How do you work with an editor without the pride thing getting in the way?

KC: My editor is a genius, so I’m okay with what he says. Ninety percent of the time I have no questions with his advice and edits. I remember one time when we disagreed on the motivation. After polling six people, five of them agreed with me. I won that time!

DM: What technology do you use for writing?

KC: I use Scrivener and love it. I have a MacBook Air for all my writing and emails. I used to use PC’s, but I only use Macs now.

DW: How do you keep from resenting your duties when you have to stop writing to take care of them?

KC: I’ve really only been a full-time writer since January [2012]. With both my daughters being older now and one at college, I have the whole day to write. So there’s nothing pulling me away from my writing anymore. But when I started writing [around 2005], I wrote whenever I could. While I was writing my third and fourth novels, my daughter was very ill, hospitalized for weeks at a time, and we were driving her back and forth to appointments in Los Angeles. My dad died during that time as well.

DM: Describe your writing style in 10 words or less.

KC: Very succinct and to the point. I went into writing thinking I need flowery language that sounded so “literary” and all that. But my editor kept telling me to cut, cut, cut. I learned how to say a lot with just a few words.

DW: When you hear from your readers, what do they say?

KC: They tell me they shared the story with someone or that it was meaningful. I hear from them at perfect times, like when I want to quit. I used to read my book reviews, like on Amazon. The one bad review out of 10 is the one I’d remember and know word for word. “There’s four stars, there’s another four, oh, good! There’s one star … yuck.” The one star would stick with me. But reading them helped me understand that people are different and you won’t please them all. I don’t read them anymore.

DM: How do you use social media to promote your writing?

KC: I don’t use it. When I’m at a conference and hear about [social media], I get stressed out thinking about the time it takes. I’d rather be writing, so I do. I have a Facebook account for book announcements and events, but I don’t use Twitter. I’ve heard of the author promotion on Twitter where it’s all they do. Too much promo. That’s a turn-off for me.

DM: How is this world a better place because of your books?

KC: I hope my books help people, inform them, and make them think. I don’t write just for entertainment. It’s a calling for me. Writing is what God has called me to do.

(The following questions came from readers of my blog who submitted questions for Katie.)

What’s the biggest mistake new writers make?

KC: Thinking they are better writers than they are. When I started out, James Scott Bell was my mentor, so I got a lot of great advice. Early on I attended a conference at Mt. Hermon and had 12 pages critiqued. When I got home, I spread them out, saw all the redlining, and went to work. The next year I brought the same text back and it received a better critique. With new writers, half of them will take direction. Those will eventually succeed. The other half won’t take help and they will not succeed. They go in with an attitude rather than asking for guidance. I was at a conference and there was a man who was so sure of himself and wouldn’t accept help. Later, I saw him all wide-eyed and humbled, asking what classes he should take. At another conference, I recognized an author sitting in my class as a student. It was Jerry Jenkins, who has sold millions of books. Never think you’re finished with learning.

How on earth do you write an effective synopsis?

KC: Make it short and to the point!

How do you balance the craft of writing with the business of writing?

KC: I am so thankful for my publisher [Bethany House]. They tell me to “write great books and leave the selling to us.” That is unusual in publishing. Very few publishers do that. My publisher wants me to spend my time writing.

The best part about meeting with Katie was seeing humility in action. The woman has a contract with a reputable publisher, yet there was no hint of pride during our conversation. She was the same Katie I worked with who happened to be a writer, living her dream and sharing what she learns. Katie’s seventh novel, Finding Me, was released in April 2015. Visit her website at KathrynCushman.com.


 

Article

Is Your Writing Like a Windowpane?

Image from Flickr/hjl https://www.flickr.com/photos/hjl/

Image from FLICKR/HJL

 

“Good prose is like a windowpane.”

You’ll find that quote in Why I Write, an essay by author George Orwell. The sentence caused me to stop and give it a careful think. What does it mean? Does Orwell mean for us to write in a way that reflects our own lives? Should our writing be a window to new adventures for the reader? Is our writing to show imperfections and fragility?

For help, I pulled out my trusty dictionary and looked up a few words. What does it mean for good prose to be like a windowpane?

First things first: What is prose?

As you learn more about writing, you will find terms that group writers, describe words, and categorize stories. Prose is a lovely word to say, yet it describes writing that uses everyday language and speaking patterns, as opposed to the rhythmic language of poetry. News articles, novels, essays, short stories, and this blog post are all examples of prose.

So, Orwell encouraged writers like you and me to take what we write and make those words act like a windowpane.

The purpose of a windowpane

A windowpane is a framed sheet of glass. Glass is transparent. Therefore “Good prose is” transparent. Here’s what the dictionary says about transparent:

  1. Fine or sheer enough to be seen through.
  2. Free from pretense or deceit; frank
  3. Easily detected or seen through; obvious
  4. Readily understood
  5. Characterized by visibility or accessibility of information

Do you see what Orwell was trying to express? Good writing will allow the reader to see the story and its message clearly. There will be no attention called to the mechanical words when prose is written like a windowpane.

Do you need that word?

A fellow writer/blogger commented on one of my short stories. She suggested that I remove a word because it didn’t add anything to the story. Once the word was gone, she said, the sentence would be “effective and tight.” I took her advice and she was right. Effective and tight. I like that, so I’ve placed that duo in my writer’s toolbox.

A quote from Canadian author Ralph Milton sums it up:

Writers … use the same words everyone uses, but when we get it right, the emotions, the feelings, the concepts, the images, the ideas are distilled with clarity and force. Then nobody notices our words. … Like cleaning a window. When you do it right, and the light shines through and you don’t notice the glass. (Angels in Red Suspenders, 1998)

Write so readers can see

So, the challenge is to write only what we want our readers to see. Sounds like another course in the craft of writing. Here’s are ideas to help you start putting those window panes into place:

  • Share your work to gain advice
  • Review your stories and look for spots on the windowpane
  • Re-read books that made you forget the words and see the story
  • Study those authors’ techniques and put them into practice
  • Practice, practice, and practice some more

Let the window cleaning begin!

(First published on DarlaWrites.com)


 

Link

Bookmark This Lovely List

The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English

You’ll notice that the compiler included (by mistake?) words that are not English, but all of them are beautiful. Just read them, one after the other …


 

Article

Five Great Reasons for a Writer to Regain the Library Habit

It’s National Library Week. Have you been to the library lately?

We have a library in every part of town. I visited the Montecito Branch today.

We have a library on every side of town. this is the adorable Montecito Branch that I visited this week.

After my son grew up and moved out of the Mommy zone, I stopped visiting our public libraries. For over ten years, if I wanted to read a book or needed one for my home business, I’d head to a bookstore and buy it. Or I would depend on a friend’s personal library and hope to find gold.

It was only a few years ago, soon after I restarted my writing life, that I came to my senses and I applied for a new library card.

Only a few years ago. It makes me crazy when I think about it.

If you’re ignoring this public treasure, as I was, take note of these five great reasons for a writer to regain the library habit.

1) Save Money

I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country — Santa Barbara — so I’m always looking for ways to save a buck. The library is one of my budget helpers. Now, instead of spending money at a bookstore or on Amazon.com, I head to the library. I usually come out with more books than I went in to find — always a good thing.

And have you ever purchased a book and were sorry you did so after reading a few pages? If  you had checked it out from the library, the only thing you would have spent was your time.

I learned of author Ivan Doig through his obituary (he died last week) and several people recommended his books. I went to my library’s website, reserved one of his novels, and picked it up several days later, along with two others I’ve wanted to read:

Dickinson, Hurston, Doig. Variety is the spice of life!

Dickinson, Hurston, Doig. Variety is the spice of life.

All for free.

2) Discover New Authors

If you don’t have a budgetary inspiration to step through the doors, as I did, you might not feel the need to use the library. But think about this: While you’re walking down the aisle, your head cocked to the side as you search for your favorite author, what if you came upon an intriguing title? You’d have the opportunity to leaf through it and give it a try. For free.

That’s not an experience you could have at, say, Amazon; the list of “Customers who bought this item also bought” books are usually the same genre or author. In the fiction aisles of the library, the only thing the authors will have in common is the first letter of their last names.

3) Psst! There’s More

Besides finding print books at your local library, you’ll most likely also find:

  • Magazines
  • Downloadable audio and e-books, and audio books
  • Internet connection
  • Laptops for rent
  • DVD’s
  • Research material (on site and online)
  • Computer classes
  • Book Club packets

My library has all of those plus classical music groups, writer workshops, children’s story time, speakers, and art exhibits featured on a regular basis.

4) The Sounds of Silence

Cell phones were not a part of everyday life back when I was a regular library patron with my son. So, when mine rang during my first visit in years, I wanted to hide. The next time I visited, I placed my phone on “vibrate” before I got out of the car.

Even with the tap-tapping on the computer keyboards and the occasional laughter and questions of children, there is a nice quietness to the library. It feels like being home on a chore-less day, except there is no doorbell ringing, no temptation to hop up and do the laundry, and no limit to the books on my shelves.

5) Reading Improves Your Writing

Writers hear that, read that, and say that truth. And what better place to be than the library, which promotes reading as the most wonderful activity. The people who work there are aching to give you all the reading material you could want or ever need. They want to help you make reading a habit.

During one visit, I asked about the checkout limit.

“You can take 100 books if you’d like.” She smiled at me. I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.

Notice how the library staff cater to their visitors. You can return your books by mail, in bins, or inside. You can renew over the phone, via the website, or in person.

If the book you want is at another branch — my library’s system spans two counties — they’ll track it down and reserve it for you.

There is no excuse, then, for a writer with a library in town to ever be without an inspiring novel or an informative book. A good writer is a good reader.

So, if you’re behaving like I once was, ignoring your wonderful public library, then find time to rediscover the pearl that it is. Use the library as another tool to enhance your writing life.

What do you like best about your public library?

(Updated. This article was first published on DarlaWrites.com)


 

Article

The Greatest Writing Lesson Ever

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Image from Pixabay/Ramdlon

 

Criticism is the bane of many writing lives. Receiving it can turn a confident writer into a pile of shattered ego.

Enter Edward Payson Roe, a 19th century pastor who became a writer. I’d never heard of E.P. Roe until I read Rob Stroud’s blog post, Having Our Writing CriticizedIn his day, Roe’s writing was popular, but it was often attacked by the “literary people,” as he called them. He had the courage to take on his critics and, with that, made a statement that I’ve taken to heart.

Stroud’s post includes a portion of an essay Roe wrote about his life. It’s a long read, but, oh, how glad I am that I read this gem.

Towards the end of this answer to his critics, Roe states his 14-word conclusion.

That’s it, I thought to myself.

It’s a simple statement, comforting, challenging, and freeing. I think it’s the lesson that every writer should learn and follow.

It’s a lesson to take to heart for your entire writing life — a foundation that gets you started and keeps you going.

Before you jump down to those 14 words, be sure to read the following points I’ve included from his essay. What you’ll notice are, as Rob Stroud puts it, “the echoes of Roe’s humility and his realistic understanding of the vocation of writing.”

The New Writer

  • While writing my first story, I rarely thought of the public, the characters and their experiences absorbing me wholly.
  • When my narrative was actually in print, there was wakened a very deep interest as to its reception.
  • I also was aware that, when published, a book was far away from the still waters of which one’s friends are the protecting headlands.
  • A writer cannot, like a speaker, look into the eyes of his audience and observe its mental attitude toward his thought.

Criticism Comes

  • I doubt if a book was ever more unsparingly condemned than mine in that review, whose final words were, “The story is absolutely nauseating.” (Note: The reviewer was one for whom Roe had the highest respect.)
  • My story made upon him just the impression he expressed, and it would be very stupid on my part to blink the fact.
  • I wished to learn the actual truth more sincerely than any critic to write it, and at last I ventured to take a copy to Mr. George Ripley, of the New York Tribune.
  • Although not blind to its many faults, he wrote words far more friendly and inspiring than I ever hoped to see.
  • From that day to this these two instances have been types of my experience with many critics, one condemning, another commending.
  • There is ever a third class who prove their superiority by sneering at or ignoring what is closely related to the people.

Fourteen Words: Roe’s Great Conclusion

After leading us through his excellent thought process, Roe gives us this:

  • Much thought over my experience led to a conclusion which the passing years confirm:

The only thing for a writer

is to be himself

and take the consequences.

Don’t you love that? Can you read those words and not have a new boldness for your writing life? For me, they are like a confirmation, and they’ve given me a new way to look at my work and what I plan to do with it.

Be yourself. That’s easy, right? Take the consequences. Now, we come to the tough part. Some people will like your work and others won’t. That’s okay. Those are the consequences of writing with readers in mind. Yet, if you embrace Roe’s conclusion, I think you’re in for a less burdensome and more joyful writing life.

A Circle of Friends: Readers

Roe goes on to give his thoughts on readership. I cannot help but list a number of his quotes on this topic; they are so beautifully expressed.

  • A writer gradually forms a constituency, certain qualities in his book appealing to certain classes of minds.
  • A writer who takes any hold on popular attention inevitably learns the character of his constituency.
  • He appeals, and minds and temperaments in sympathy respond. Those he cannot touch go on their way indifferently; those he offends may often strike back.
  • This is the natural result of any strong assertion of individuality.
  • It is perhaps one of the pleasantest experiences of an author’s life to learn from letters and in other ways that he is forming a circle of friends, none the less friendly because personally unknown.
  • Their loyalty is both a safeguard and an inspiration.
  • On one hand, the writer shrinks from abusing such regard by careless work; on the other, he is stimulated and encouraged by the feeling that there is a group in waiting who will appreciate his best endeavor.

The Writer’s Aim

Roe sums it up for us:

  • My one aim has become to do my work conscientiously and leave the final verdict to time and the public.
  • I wish no other estimate than a correct one; and when the public indicate that they have had enough of Roe, I shall neither whine nor write.

There is much more in this excellent article for you to enjoy. To visit Stroud’s blog and read the entire post, click here.

Roe’s conclusion is hardly a secret, but I appreciate the way he says and explains it in such a practical and intelligent way. I hope his words help you to lose any fear you may have of sharing your writing with the world.

Fellow writer, what will you do with these 14 words?

(This article was first published on DarlaWrites.com, January 2014)