Mini-conference on Storytelling

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Two weeks from today (November 2nd) has been marked on my calendar for weeks. It’s the day of our one-day writing conference: “Storytelling: Bringing the Past to Life.”

If you’re a Vancouver area writer, you’ll want to give this a look. Here is the delectable lineup:

9:00 a.m. – “The Drama of Biblical Fiction” by David Kitz (president of The Word Guild).

10:00 a.m. “Writing the Play Tolkein” by Ron Reed (eminent playwright and founder of Pacific Theatre, Vancouver).

11:15 a.m. “Twentieth Century Historical Fiction and Memoir” by Rose Seiler Scott.

1:30 p.m. “How to Save Your Family History through Short Stories” by Jim Martens.

2:30 p.m. “Writing Historical Musicals” by Allen Desnoyers, composer of “Pier 21 – The Musical”

The day winds up with an evening performance of “Pier 21 – The Musical” (ticketed separately).

Location:

South Delta Baptist Church
1988 – 56th Street
Delta, BC

This conference is sponsored by The Word Guild’s Surrey and White Rock Chapters. More details and a registration form are available HERE.

My (penciled) writing goals for 2014

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Goals - Plans - Aspirations - Dreams Can you believe we’re almost halfway through January! By now those wonderful New Year’s Resolutions have been tested, perhaps broken (if you made any). And what about writing goals?

I always start the year full of bubbly optimism. The year is new. It’s a clean page. I can begin again. The possibilities are endless. Writing down goals is one way to attach a string to my helium-filled balloon. Having this topic as the first one in our BLOG HOP  gets me tying on that string in real time!

Goals are as useful or unrealistic as we make them. They  are most helpful when they come with details like what, how much, by when. Some folks split goals into two parts: Goals and Objectives. That’s what I’m going to do here.

I’m defining goals as  overarching ends I’d like to achieve.   Objectives are  the specific measurable steps that I need to take to achieve those goals. This article about writing goals and objectives  (PDF file) uses a helpful mnemonic for objectives:

SMART mnemonic

S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound

Here are some of my 2014 goals and objectives:

Goal 1:
Contribute to the conversation about God, spiritual things, and what it means to live as a Christian.

Objectives:

  • Continue to post daily devotions at my devotional blog Other Food Devos. (Some of these are reposts.)
  • These will be written between 5:30 and 8:00 a.m. daily and scheduled ahead.

Goal 2:
Do my part on special projects and assignments (two poetry books and my FellowScript columns) to which I’ve committed myself.

Objectives:

  • Work with my colleagues on these projects by meeting the deadlines we set up. (Vague but some of  these projects are not in my control.)

Goal 3:
Make a little money with my writing.

Objectives:

  • Send out one article/poem/devotion/kids’ activity etc.  to a paying market the weeks I’m working (not during holidays and times of family obligation).

Goal 4:
Improve as a poet.

Objectives:

  • Write at least one new poem per week, with the exception of April (National Poetry Month) and perhaps November, when I usually join in on challenges to write one poem a day.
  • Enter at least six poetry contests this year.
  • Research and submit to poetry publications (try for one submission per month).
  • Read and review at least one book of poetry monthly on my poetry blog (Violet Nesdoly / poems).
  • Continue to be part of the Kidlit Poetry Friday community by posting weekly poems and hosting when it’s my turn.

Goal: 5
– Write another novel.

Objectives:

  • Work a minimum of 60 minutes per day on this (whatever stage I’m at: research, plotting, character development, writing, editing etc.) five days a week.

Goal 6:
Broaden my author platform.

Objectives:

  • Post a monthly Freelance Writers Almanac article on this blog.
  • Read and comment on colleagues’ blogs (Regularly; I’m not putting a number on this because I don’t want to track it).
  • Remain active in the writing and friend communities to which I belong by posting to Twitter and/or Facebook/Facebook author page.
  • Continue to read publisher- and author-offered books and review them on my blog, Goodreads & Amazon within the time frame that the publishers request.
  • Research publishing a newsletter.

Goal 7:
Work towards self-publishing some of my previously published blog posts, stories, poems etc. (This goal is at the back of the queue; I’ll be considering it later in the year).

Objectives:

  • Learn to make book covers using Photoshop Elements by ordering a Dummies book to help me understand the software and spending at least an hour each week working in Photoshop so I get some hands-on experience with the program.
  • Work on getting my U.S. ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) in order to circumvent the IRS withholding royalties should I choose to publish with a US publisher like Create Space.
  • Continue mulling over the idea of publishing an author newsletter.

Yikes, I feel like I’ve bitten off some rather big chunks here. I’ll definitely need the word I’ve chosen as my inspiration this year:  FOCUS. It’s what I’ll have to do in order to make progress on any one of the above, let alone achieve them all!

I remind myself, too, of something a speaker at one of our women’s events said:

“Remember, you write your plans in pencil. Only God writes in pen.”

Permission to write: Write!Vancouver – 3

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Permission to Write was a panel discussion that was part of Write! Vancouver (May 25). The panel was moderated by Lesley Bentley. On the panel were K. C. Dyer (author), Marc Cote (Publisher, Cormorant Books), Ken Shigematsu (Pastor), and Ron Reed (Playwright, Actor & Creative Director of Pacific Theatre).

Permission to Write panelists - Write! Vancouver conference 2013

Lesley Bentley, K.C. Dyer, Marc Cote, Ken Shigematsu, Ron Reed – panelists. (Photo © 2013 by V. Nesdoly)

Why I chose this workshop:

I would be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes think of quitting. A lot of things play into this: the amount of work it takes to not only write but then find a paying home for that writing, the long road to book publication and after publication, publicizing, marketing, and selling the books; the volume of words already out there these days—and the feeling that my words are just adding to the noise; and physical weariness. Writing may seem like a cushy job. But brain activity is exhausting, at least for me.

Permission to Write – Highlights from my notes:

Lesley Bentley invited the panelists to talk about what permission to write meant for them.

Ron Reed:

All kinds of things can interfere—things that are essential. We ask ourselves, how will the world even know if I don’t write. You have to assertively make that room.

He feels that God has given him permission but he has to give himself room, take seriously that permission to write.

He also has to separate that permission to write from the need to achieve, be good, be published. The play-writing process is essential to him. It’s a continuum of the kid in the sandbox (play) in the need to communicate. “To avoid writer’s block, which has to do with permission to write, you have to block out the need to get published.”

Ken Shigematsu: God In My Everything by Ken Shigematsu

Seeds of permission for him to write were sown by Leighton Ford 15 years ago. When Shigematsu said he wouldn’t be able to write like Philip Yancey, Ford said to him, ‘No one will be able to write like you.’

Ten years ago he started writing about adapted monastic rhythms. Interest sparked and he wrote some more. The writing was a reward in itself. (His book God In My Everything: How An Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God is scheduled to be released by Zondervan in August).

K. C. Dyer:

Find time in the middle of other things. You have to get your butt in the chair, words on the paper. Speak it into your phone. It’s like any other job: if you’re a writer, it’s a job. If this is who you are, be true to yourself and do it. 500 words a day leads to a 150,000 word book after a year.

Marc Cote:

The only person who can give you permission to write is yourself. Don’t wait for it to come from outside. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission, but take it. Go from there.

“People who have to write, don’t think about permission too much.” (Don’t remember who said this but I liked it)

Marc Cote:

Writing to express oneself is not writing but journaling. Journaling is like the 5-finger exercise in piano. People write to communicate. Put your running shoes on first before you dream of the glories of winning a marathon.

Lesley Bentley:

How do you square the results you can see in measure with permission based on the premise that it doesn’t count without an evangelistic, or money result.

Ken Shigematsu:

Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

K. C. Dyer:

There will always be roadblocks in the way. People put arts last in their lives. Sometimes we throw caution to the winds. We need to set aside the million balls in the air and work on it (our writing). Clear enough space in your head. Find your own place of peace where the ideas come to you. Fifteen minutes a day can become your time.

Ron Reed:

It is worth writing. We wouldn’t be in the room if we didn’t think it’s so. It’s worth doing it whether I win or not–for the doing of it. (“Im at the extreme end of intrinsic rewards type of guy.”) Whatever the reason it takes to get the fingers moving–do it. “I get demotivated when it has to be good enough for people. Permission to write has to do with motivation. Print the poster.” When you’re writing it, you can’t know what’s really great or not. Just type – it might be better than you think. Don’t get stuck on your first play.

Lesley Bentley:

Let’s explore the statement that permission to write has to do with motivation.

Matadora by Elizabeth RuthMarc Cote:

Told the story of an agent who sent him a manuscript from a writer he respected, but he didn’t feel he could publish it. He eventually was asked to explain to the author what didn’t work for him.

The author ended up turning down another offer on her book to take several more years to rework her story keeping in mind his suggestions. Coromorant Books recently published her book, it has been garnering good reviews and that day  (Saturday, May 25th) it (Matadora by Elizabeth Ruth) had a glowing review in the Globe and Mail (Cote waved the paper before us as proof))

Concerning motivation: “She carved out the time (years) to write the book that was inside her all the time.”

K. C. Dyer:

It’s like runner’s high. That moment when you know you’ve nailed it.

Marc Cote:

Part of the joy of it all is in the doing. It’s not going to come easy. When do runners experience a runner’s high? After a long run.

Ron Reed:

It’s worth doing. We’ve heard fifteen ‘worth it’s.’ We are highly encouraged to consume; we are not encouraged to create. God said it’s okay – Genesis 1-3: “It is good.” We are in His image and likeness: He makes stuff and enjoys it. It’s coded into us.

K. C. Dyer:

It’s very important that you read. Every writer comes to writing from being a reader first. Reading is significant to growth and ability as a creator. Always be learning. You can have this career for the long haul. Keep trying to get better. Read widely, often, and much.

Ron Reed:

Playwrights need to watch plays. You intuitively produce what you take in. If you want to write a literary book, you might be best not watching TV.

K. C. Dyer:

“It’s remarkable what you learn from reading poor writing.”

Marc Cote:

If your time for reading is limited, only read good things.

Ron Reed: 

Narrow your reading – not for your whole life but for the time you’re writing a certain play or certain thing.

Someone asked a question leading to a discussion on how to recharge when your writing (not necessarily creative things, but writing emails, and other assigned writing) makes you feel weary and like you’ve run out of words:

Ron Reed:

Finds photography a good reset button.

K. C. Dyer:

Writes by hand in her journal, vs. at the computer on a keyboard.

There was a question about permission to write what might offend someone. How do you get permission to write what you want to?

Some suggestions:

  • Pretend people are dead.
  • Leave the country.

K. C. Dyer:

Books are a safe place for your brain and ideas to meet. Pretend that no one is ever going to read it.

Ron Reed:

You can write with similar rawness to how you would write a journal.

“Get a tough enough skin. I didn’t write a role model. I wrote that play so other people could think about certain issues. It takes a certain brashness to put some things out there.”

Closing challenge was by Reed, who kept reminding us to keep putting words on paper/the screen He told the story of how he had begun a novel, quit and put it aside. Years later he came across it again and is now using ideas and snippets of it in a different project.

“Write stuff, and later you might find out what its purpose was. The words are what you’re going to carve something else out of. One thing can become another thing, and another thing. It can be a play, an email, a poem, part of a lecture etc.”

*************

My takeaway:

– I felt reassured by the advice to enjoy and revel in my urge to create; it’s God-given.

– I loved Leighton Ford’s advice to Ken Shigematsu: “No one will be able to write like you.”

– I could so well relate to the discussion around the fact that writing is a self-motivating job. As Reed said: “… all kinds of things can interfere–things that are essential. We ask ourselves, how will the world even know if I don’t write. You have to assertively make that room.”

– Another thought that I really liked was that we don’t always know, when we’re writing something, what it’s end-up purpose will be. We may journal and forget entirely about what we’ve written, only to reread it at some later time and find it is the perfect illustration for a talk, or the germ of a poem, story or essay.

I hope my recap of this discussion will help you find permission to write as listening to it firsthand did for me! What resonated with you?

Words Becoming Flesh: Write! Vancouver – 2

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Ron Reed

Ron Reed – Words Becoming Flesh, Write! Vancouver

“Words Becoming  Flesh: Writing for the Stage” was the first workshop I attended Saturday morning of Write! Vacouver. Ron Reed taught it. He is the creative director of Pacific Theatre as well as a playwright and actor

My ‘history’ with Reed and Pacific Theatre goes back to about 2002 when I saw Reed act in the incredible one-man show Father Damien.

A few years later, Pacific Theatre had a poetry contest and one of my entries won a spot in one of their Christmas Presence performances. The prize (besides a ticket to the performance to hear Ron read my piece) was tickets for hubby and me to the rest of the Pacific Theatre’s offerings that season. We renewed our season’s tickets for several years after that (until the language of some of the plays got a bit too much for us). So I saw firsthand what excellent work Ron does and inspires in his company.

Why I chose this workshop:

1. I have great respect for Ron Reed as an artist and an articulate Christian. Whenever he spoke at Pacific Theatre performances, or I read what he had to say in his blogs or in the paper, he got me thinking.
2.  I am not a playwright nor do I have any desire to learn to write plays. However, just over a year ago I received good advice about my novel from a friend with script-writing experience  and  I was sure that Reed’s words to playwrights would be applicable to novelists as well.

Words Becoming Flesh – some highlights

For starters, the title of the workshop was perfect, and Reed riffed on its meaning in his opening statements: “Drama is different than other arts. The script is the score but not the actual art. Drama is a flesh and blood art, where the audience breathes the same air as the actors. They respond to the living persons in the room.”

Reed continued by explaining how for him, theatre resembles what Jesus did in the incarnation. “The words of the script become His flesh and live among us. The fundamental nature of that playing is profoundly Christian.”

(Another time in his talk,  he spoke of how such storytelling combined with action is part of the Jewish and Christian worldview: “When there was a story, they put up a pile of stones, wrote it on their door frames, told their children about it. It is integral to the Jewish and Christian worldview.”)

Early on, Reed described how he prepared for Father Damien in the way he entered the world of his character by studying his history and constructing an entire world and mental state for him. This enabled him to ‘become’ him on stage.

He stressed the importance of leaving room for the audience to participate:  “In a play, there is something that the audience brings. In a well-done play the audience has to create with the director. Leaving room for the audience to fill in the gaps is essential. The story needs to live, breathe and move on the stage. Be careful about interpreting for your audience.”

Concerning sets:  “The best theater designs take away the pieces so that the audience has to provide pieces of the setting. LESS IS MORE.”

A play is structured like a story is told: with a view to answering  “What happens next?”

According to Reed, here’s how a play works:

There is a central character.  Secondary characters are also important but there is usually a central character.

That character lives in a world of status quo until something happens. That’s called the precipitating or inciting incident. The main character believes ‘Now I have to do something to make it be how I want it.’

The inciting incident happens almost instantly in modern plays. It’s not just anything happening but something  that advances the story. You must make the incident matter.

During the second phase of the story—most of the play—the character tries things to get the equilibrium back. If what he does works and he achieve his goal, the play is over. But if not, more problems result and accumulate. This is called reversal.

Continued action is required to deal with how things are now. The character must do the next thing. The play is a sequence of these actions.

!. Circumstance of the moment.
2. What the person wants = his carrot.
3. He makes a choice
4. Takes an action.
5. There’s a consequence to what he does.
6. The world is now different than before he took the action.

Reed likened the working of a play to falling a row of dominoes or activating one of those ball mechanisms where each action of the ball triggers another happening.

In the bulk of the story this keeps recurring as the stakes get higher and higher, more and more urgent, and the consequences grow bigger and bigger. Through all this what’s inside the person becomes visible.  We see their desire and their desperation. The actions reveal the heart and that’s what plays are for. The choices made reveal the person’s values, what they will fight for.

The third part of the story is the home stretch. This is when the course of action becomes do or die. He will win or lose the girl, gain self-respect or fall into a pit of loathing, control all the drugs or be shot to bits. When the consequence of that happens, there is no more story. The story is done.

The play is over when the central story is resolved, or seen to be unresolvable.

This is called the  three-act structure, no matter how many actual acts or scenes are in the play.

Act 1 – What’s the world like until the first action is taken. Character up a tree.

Act 2 – All the actions and setbacks. Throw rocks at him.

Act 3 – Final effects of the thing. You get him out of the tree.

Reed left us with a reading list of books, helpful to playwrights:

Story  by Robert McKee – book on screen-writing-writing (Reed described it as ‘very detailed and formulaic’ but the book to read if you want to write scripts).

Backwards & Forwards  by David Ball  – A technical guide for reading plays. He basically says, if you start at the end and go backwards, each domino fall will lead you to the one before.  (Reed described reading a play like this as a way for directors to see what scenes to cut).

The Playwright’s Process  by Buzz McLaughlin.

Creating Theatre  by Morrow and Pike

Making a Good Script Great   by Linda Seger

My takeaway:

Any fiction writer reading this will recognize lots of practices used by fiction writers in Reed’s description of writing plays:

– Imagining and creating the character’s world, history and internal feelings—whether they’re patterned on a real person, or drawn from imagination.

– Allowing room for the audience to participate in that we try not to spell things out but show actions and reactions, leaving room for the audience to participate by interpreting what they see.

– We give our characters lots of trouble. This reminds me of James Scott Bell’s plotting advice: “No conflict = dull. No trouble = readers are tempted to put the book down” – Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict and Suspense, Kindle Edition p. 82.

– We use trouble to reveal what’s inside our characters.

– Though we have more room to delve into a person’s consciousness when telling a story on the page than the playwright does on the stage (Reed described such internal  thought bits as “therapy”: “We want to see characters, not talking about something but acting.  In a play things happen. It’s not a therapy session of what people are feeling”) it would probably be a good exercise to imagine those internal scenes on a stage so that we don’t let them go on too long and get the story bogged down.

All in all, it was a fascinating—and entertaining— talk.

Write! Vancouver – 1

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I spent most of the weekend just past with fellow writers attending Write! Vancouver, sponsored by The Word Guild. We met in the beautiful Tapestry facility (in Wesbrook Village on the UBC campus). It was a Friday night and all-day-Saturday crammed with inspiring speakers and interactions with fellow scribes.

Write! Vancouver session

Marc Cote and John Stackhouse – Friday night panel

Friday Night Soiree – Faithfulness is no excuse for sloth:

The Friday night soiree was a panel discussion titled ‘Faithfulness’ is no excuse for sloth: Why God expects excellence.  On the panel were John Stackhouse (Regent College professor) and Marc Cote (publisher Cormorant Books), with moderator Lesley Bentley.

Here are a few bits from my notes:

J. Stackhouse: “Excellence is a function of humility. Humility is understanding where you are in the scheme of things. … Excellence needs to be a function of your particular calling. But the pursuit of excellence can be paralyzing. Submit to reality and hone your craft.”

M. Cote: “It’s not just putting in the 10,000 hours, but 10,000 hours well applied.”

*******

M. Cote: “If you chase the market you’ll never catch up… Write to an audience, not to the market.”

J. Stackhouse: When writing his book on evil, in order to get out of his head as an academic, he envisioned his audience as six reader-types he wanted to communicate with. He measured success of each chapter by  whether he could foresee them getting value from it.

*******

When discussing the question of whether one has an obligation to write if the inspiration is there:

M. Cote: “Carve out those hours and write. Non-writers won’t do that. Bend (don’t force) your life so that you have time to write. Don’t tweet, check Facebook etc. … Everyone needs a room of one’s own—that room may be in your head. Challenge yourself to write short and well. You can’t write well unless you read well. Good language will stay in your head.”

*******

Re: success—do sales numbers matter?

Ans. (don’t remember who said it): Define what success will look like for you. Sales are one of the least reliable indicators of success.

*******

In the days ahead, I’ll rehash some of the wisdom I heard in the Word Becomes Flesh: Writing For the Stage workshop with Ron Reed, and the Permission to Write, and Journaling panels.