How to put together a writing bucket list

Special thanks to Moyan Brenn for use of this image.
Special thanks to Moyan Brenn for use of this image.

This is a just a morbid thing for me to write about but, hey, I’ve reported on mayhem so I can deal.

I have a writing bucket list. Yes, a list of things I want to write before I kick the bucket.

This thought comes after hearing several of my favorite writers express the same thought — “I have too many ideas to write down.”

I also have too many ideas and so many that I want to execute but I know that I have to focus on one project at a time. Focus is something I’m working on not only in my writing but in my life. So, I put that project idea on the shelf and kind of keep there until whenever.

Over the years, I’ve accumulated quite the bucket list. Some are just huge goals that a younger me was crazy about, aiming for the moon (I wanted to win a Pultizer) and others I have already done and had to remind myself I had done them (reporting from a foreign country).

So, now, at the mature age of mid-30s, I put together a new writing bucket list, goals really, that I have for myself.

1.) Write a mystery series

Did you know I cut my fiction teeth on the mystery genre? I did. I was the weird kid reading Edgar Allen Poe. In east Harris County in the 80s, there were no bookstores so I would buy books when mom and I went to the Fiesta Mart. At the grocery store they sold those little thick books, adaptations of the great novels. I loved reading Cask of Amontillo. Soon, I’d move up to more contemporary novels for children like Nancy Drew and the Boxcar Children mysteries. Encyclopedia Brown was a favorite. But it was Joan Lowery Nixon’s “Whispers from the Dead” that sold the genre to me.

Now, I write as many kinds of things as I can — articles, commentary, essay, literary fiction, short stories, some non-fiction, etc. However, I’ve recently come full circle and am seriously considering some options. (Details on this later.)

2.) Write an epic love story

I’ve written about this before. I would love to write a love story in the category of Love in the Time of Cholera and Anna Karenina. Tragic. Beautiful. Emotion stealing.  Epic love stories told beautifully, I believe, are crafted by true artists.  I’m not there yet but hopefully I will be one day!

3.) Write a t.v. script

I’ve written spec scripts before just for the challenge and I loved the process! Again, it was just me and my idea so knowing that writing scripts is a bit of a team sport, (by team I mean there’s a room of writers thinking about things) is intriguing.

4.) Finally have a space for my writing

How jealous I am of writers who have their own space for writing? Ridiculously jealous. Robert Olen Butler and Isabel Allende have shared pictures of their writing spaces. It’s like looking into the inner sanctum of genius. Just them and their world.

I have a space where I do my writing. It’s called the corner of my living room. For now, it will do.

5.) Write for Texas Monthly, the Atlantic, and Vanity Fair

This should really read: get really good at non-fiction storytelling. I LOVE narrative writing — reading and writing it. I love the idea of reporting on a story for a longer period of time and getting down to the meat of it. The challenge of telling the story, after reporting and research, is lovely even though in the thick of it I want to pull out my hair. But at the end, when it goes through the process, it is art. These three magazines I love and have always wanted to write for them.

One day.

6.) Become a columnist

I’ve done this before but not as a full time gig. It’s always been a reporter who writes an occasional column, which is fine but column writing is something I want to work on doing well. Crafting an argument and considering from all sides really is takes some time.

I’ve written commentary for The Guardian and for the Huffington Post now and I’ve enjoyed it each time I’ve done it. I want to do more of that here in the future.

7.) Write the great American novel

Everyone wants to do this, however, I’m amending this. I want to write MY great American novel. There is no one definition of being American, just the overall feeling of can-do and patriotism. My American story is different than others but it deserves to be heard. It should be part of the tapestry and will be one day.

So what are your goal for your writing? Do you have a writing bucket list?

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Every writer needs a community

Reading to write or how book clubs are awesome
My group didn’t look like this.

This past weekend, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I went to a meeting of writers.

Shreveport has a writing club and in all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never once dropped by to even say hello. Last Saturday I did because I was done writing in a vacuum. And you know what? I loved it!

Do you get that way sometimes? You toll away at your writing and maybe you send it to a couple of friends to read but other than that, you’re by your lonesome.

Yes, writing is a lonely profession but it doesn’t have to be, especially if you’re learning how to do this.

Sitting in that room with my fellow writers, I forgot how much I missed talking to other writers and trading information. Sometimes, another writer will say something or have the exact piece of information you need for your project. This is something that I’ve forgotten and I don’t want to forget again.

5ed0d-harlan
Don’t lie. You’ve had this look before.

But what about if you don’t have a writing group close to you? What if you’re writing and trying to figure it all out on your own?

This is my solution for you. An online fiction writing class. And yours truly is thinking about teaching it.

I’ve taught online writing courses before and of course I teach now in an actual classroom. I’ve also seen so many people needed help on how to get started and really wondering how things work in fiction.

This is what I am proposing.  I am offering a free online fiction writing class. The purpose is to teach some of the fundamentals of fiction to however many people want to learn it.

The catch? There are two of them. 1.) If you think the class helped you, please write a recommendation for my site. and 2.) I’d like the class to become the beginning of an online writing community, a place where we don’t have to be alone when we write.

So how is this class going to work? That depends on you. I’m gathering information from people who are interested to see what works best. Once we have some details, I’ll email everyone who signed up. We’ll get started from there!

Want to get started? Fill out the form here.

The 4 Step Revision Master Plan

4 Step Revision Master Plan

This happens more often to me than I’d like to admit.

After <insert whatever length of time> I am done with the first draft something I get so excited. I call up friends, I blast it on social media, I pop open a good bottle of wine.

Then I realize I’m no where near finished. No. Where. Near.

In fact, I have a whole other process awaiting me and it’s not nearly as fun as the creative part that I just finished.

But, as I’ve learned time and time again, the book is written in revision and it can be just as exciting as the first step. Yes, it can be.

I’ve learned to love revision like one learns to love cranberry juice, it’s an acquired taste that actually isn’t too bad once it’s actually, you know, acquired. And you are so glad that you’ve gotten use to that taste because it’s better for you than you think. For me, that’s revision.

All kidding aside, I have come to love that part of the process.  It’s different from the creation side but I get this great satisfaction seeing the story come together in revision, becoming the story I knew it could be.

So, over the years I’ve developed a system for revision. It started in grad school when I had to revise my thesis quickly. I needed a systematic way to deal with all the changes and upgrades I would do for scenes. This is what I came up with and it’s helped a couple of my friends who were also in a similar position.

I call it the 4-part revision master plan and one of the best parts about it is that it’s completely adjustable. You can adjust the plan based on time constraints or whether you’re writing a novel, novella, or short story. You can also add or subtract what you need depending on your writing process.

To this day I use this technique and it’s what I’m using to revise my current novel.  I also teach a version of this to my writing students.

Want a copy?  Sign up for your copy here and get the download link.

Now remember that revision is not the same as editing. Editing is a needed process where one checks grammar and mechanics. Revision is big picture stuff — the narrative arc, character development, theme development, etc.  It’s really easy to get lost in all that unless you’ve got a good system to guide you through.  This is stuff a development editor will question and find in your copy.

Why not get the development editor to find the novel’s issues for you? That’s why you pay them, right? That’s one way to handle it, however, as a writer, I’d rather the development editor catch stuff I couldn’t see than fix the stuff I knew I could fix on my own. By the time an editor sees it, I want them to fine tune. I want copy in their hands that is not only clean but also without plot holes or flat character.  I don’t want them to waste their energy and talents on something I could have done myself.  I want an editor to zero in on bringing my novel to the next level. That’s another reason why I love using this master plan, it gives the writer a chance to think like an editor at the right time in their writing process.

Sign up for your copy and get started on your revision.

On Assignment: Eva Piper

Eva Piper

 

I love talking to fellow writers. It’s really a joy to talk to shop, it’s probably the nerd in me.

So when I saw on my Twitter account that Eva Piper would be making a stop in Shreveport, I obviously wanted to interview her.

She’s the author of A Walk Through the Dark: How My Husband’s 90 Minutes in Heaven Deepened My Faith for a Lifetime.  Here’s the summary.

One day Eva Piper was an elementary school teacher, the mother of three, the beloved wife of a strong, protective husband.The next day she stood at the bedside of a broken man who could do nothing but moan in agony and turn his head away from her.Later she would learn that he had died and actually experienced heaven before being prayed back to life–a true miracle. Don Piper’s testimony, told in the “New York Times” bestseller “90 Minutes in Heaven,” would one day bring hope to thousands. But all that was in the future. Despite family and friends who kept vigil with her, Eva Piper found herself essentially alone. Walking in the dark. And she had always hated the dark.


Though it parallels that of her husband, Eva Piper’s account is quite different from his. It takes readers not to heavenly places but through a very earthly maze of hospital corridors, insurance forms, tiring commutes from home to workplace and hospital, and lonely hours of waiting and worrying. This is the story of a woman learning, step by darkened step, to go places she never thought she could go and growing into a person she never thought she could be. Packed with hard-earned wisdom about what it means to be a caregiver, to open yourself to the care of others, and to rest in God’s provision, this book” “provides a dependable source of light to help you walk through the dark.

Interesting, no? I’m excited to talk to her about her writing journey, why she was compelled to write this book, and of course her experience with nearly losing someone she loved so dearly.  I’m hoping that she’ll also do a video.  I plan on checking out her reading.

Want to know more? Follow her on Twitter. 

 

 

How to write a book in one easy step

Discipline. Like, get it done, man!
Discipline. Like, get it done, man!

One of my friends is writing a book. I know a thing or two about that.  Written a couple myself. I write books like some buy new outfits.  So, I wanted very much to be the first reader/editor to her book.

She started with gusto, an excitement that placed a grin on her face. Then the book became one of those things that was more overwhelming than fun.

I know that look. I’ve lived that look. I hate that look.

What does it take to write a book? So, many people will say it’s character development, it’s plotting, it’s the desire. For some that may work but for me it’s the get-that-darn-thing-on-paper technique. Some will call it butt-in-chair but it’s a bit more than that.

It’s about a target.

I’ve been really into targets lately. Targets forces you to focus. The bull’s eye in the middle of all those circles is a goal. Gotta hit the small circle to win.

Writing a book is a bit like that — you got to have a goal and for that first draft the goal is to finish it.

This is what I suggested to my friend: NaNoWriMo it.

Yes, I made that into a verb.

NaNoWriMo is the short version of National Novel Writing Month. Happens every November. It’s awesome. The basic premise is to write 50,000 words, a novella length manuscript, in 30 days.

Now, there have been some writers I’ve run into that hate — HATE — this concept. To that I say judgmental, much? Don’t worry about everyone else’s book, mucky muck writer. You have your own book to finish, don’t worry about the rest of the mortals.

So, I suggested to my friend that she take the next 30 days to write the first draft of this book. This is where she’ll put down the bones to the story, the basic what-for-nots. Writing, as I’ve said countless times, comes in the revision. That’s where the meat gets put on the bone. There will be several revisions and rewrites and new levels of frustration. But that level can’t happen without bones.

I also shared with her something that was helpful to me. A NaNoWriMo spreadsheet. It’s just an amazing thing that made me so happy and helped me win last year’s writing quest. You can keep eyeing your progress through out the process and it will count down the days and words until you get to 50,000.

So what does it take to write a novel? Discipline. Simple, right? Simple like pulling a 747 by yourself. But it’s still fun and still part people people’s dreams as it should be. Nothing compares to watching that baby print for the first time once it’s all done.

I promise. Go. Write.