November 21, 2013

Ask Jami: Writing Advice Podcast

Art logo and episode information

Yesterday, Brigid Ashwood interviewed me for her weekly Art Share podcast. On Art Share, Brigid speaks with authors and other creative artists about all aspects of the creative arts—from processes to business matters.

She broadcasts live as a Google+ Hangouts On Air, which is then posted as a YouTube video so viewers can also catch up later. It was a cool process that I’d look into closer if I had the time and a plan. (If you’ve used a G+ Hangouts On Air, I’d love to hear more about your experiences so I know what’s possible.)

Brigid and I had a great time and chatted for almost for an hour about everything writing. I don’t own a webcam, so you won’t get to see me in all my talking-with-my-hands-so-much-that-I-almost-smack-the-computer-monitor glory, but I’d definitely enjoy doing something like this again. Someday, maybe I’ll even buy a webcam. *smile*

The Art Share Podcast

From Brigid’s introduction:

“This week on Art Share we talk to author Jami Gold. Jami writes an awesome blog with resources for writers. On this episode we talk about NaNoWriMo, the individuality of writing habits, popular writing advice and myths, and the incredibly popular book “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. Jami’s Blog offers Beat Sheets based on Blake Snyder’s book.”

So check out the podcast if you want to know my advice, or just want to hear my voice and goofy personality. *grin*

Art Share – Episode 19 – Guest Jami Gold

Summary of Topics from the Art Share Podcast

It’s a 52 minute long podcast, so it’s too long for me to provide a full transcript. However, here’s a breakdown of topics and direct links to those sections. (If I referred to a blog post in a section, I’ve linked to it below as well.)

Beat Sheets (at the 2:30 mark)

We started with the basics: What are beats? What is a beat sheet? Why and how would we use them? From there, our conversation roamed from exploring how beats are storytelling and not the cause of formulaic writing to how beat sheets relate to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

I shared the Basic Beat Sheet for those intimidated by the more involved beat sheets. Then we talked about the meaning of the phrase “save the cat” (which is well known due to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat book) and the purpose of including that type of scene in our story.

Strengthening Our Writing (at the 10:18 mark)

From beat sheets, we expanded on how we can use various tools and techniques to strengthen our writing. For example, it’s obvious how those who plot their stories ahead of time might use beat sheets to outline their story, but what about those who write by the seat of their pants? I shared how I’ve discovered I am not a plotter but that pantsers can use beat sheets too.

We also talked about how we can use the Elements of a Good Scene worksheet—either during drafting or revisions—to ensure our scene is working hard enough. And we wrapped up with what it means to have “tension on every page.”

Evaluating Writing Advice (at the 16:28 mark)

We hear the advice to “write every day.” What does that mean? Is it really possible to do so, especially with a day job? I discussed my approach of making sure that I’m doing something writing related every day, but sometimes that means I’m in editing mode and not drafting mode.

We then talked about how it’s easy for new writers to feel like a failure if they take such guidelines as hard and fast “rules.” In reality, we each have to find the process that works for us. Sometimes that means we don’t avoid adverbs or cliches or any other of a hundred “don’t”s when we’re drafting. Instead, we follow our drafting muse, learn what our weaknesses are, and attack them in revisions.

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo (at the 23:45 mark)

We discussed the pros and cons of the NaNoWriMo style of drafting. am signed up for NaNo again this year, but unlike last year, I’m not aiming for writing 50K words during November. Instead, I’m simply finishing the last 30K words for my current work in progress. While I’m bummed there’s no way for me to “win” this year, I figured it was better to write 30K words with my friends than alone.

If nothing else, NaNo teaches us what doesn’t work for us and our process. Even when we’re experienced writers, we can always learn something new about techniques that might work better and we won’t know unless we try. NaNo is a perfect time to try those new approaches. Failure itself is a learning experience and essential to the creative process.

Writer Struggles: Voice and “Show, Don’t Tell” (at the 30:43 mark)

When we first start writing, most writers struggle to find their voice. I compared voice to the sense of the reader being invited into the storytelling experience. We want to write how our characters would speak, and writing every day—like for NaNo—can get us in touch with their thoughts, especially if we “think out loud.” Reading aloud also helps with our editing process because we can listen for “speed bumps,” where we might trip over the words or the sentence a bit.

Another area writers struggle with is the advice to “show, don’t tell.” My guest post from Janice Hardy had great advice for using a deeper point of view to show, but it also brought up a lot of issues about when telling might work better. In essence, showing is subtext, so when we want to make goals, motivations, or consequences very clear to the reader, telling might be the way to go.

Common Questions about the Lives of Creatives (at the 38:23 mark)

The first common question Brigid asked was: How do you define success? I’ve talked before about how it’s hard for me to enjoy success, so this was a difficult question for me. As a result of my struggle, I don’t define success in just one way. I try (but don’t always succeed) to see success in the little things so I’ll have more opportunities to let myself enjoy positive results.

We then talked about the importance of a support system. I brought up how sharing our goals with our family and friends might help get their buy-in for the time, effort, and money we put toward our dream. At the very least, we can reach out to the writing community and enjoy their support.

Lastly, Brigid asked about about the best and worst advice I’d received and my best and worst writing habits. The worst advice had to do with present participle phrases—a grammar thing I knew nothing about when I first started writing—and the absolutist way the instructor worded the advice taught me bad habits that took days to fix in revision. So any “one right way” type of advice should always be considered a red flag. In contrast, the best advice I’ve heard would be the encouragement to find our own path and process—even if that means pantsing. *smile*

Have you used Google+ Hangouts On Air, and if so, how? Do you have any follow-up questions for me? How would you answer Brigid’s final common questions: How do you define success? How important is a support system to you? What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve received? What are your best and worst writing habits?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Thanks for the summary of the podcast. I hate audio as an information medium—I don’t process it as well as text, and it takes more time. How do you define success? That’s a meaningless question. The definition of success depends on which goals you’re talking about for any particular person. For example, I want to reach readers. I got an e-mail last Friday that I’m one of Wattpad’s most followed users. For that goal, I’m successful. But I also want to be able to pay the bills with my “royalty” earnings. (Technically, earnings from self-publishing aren’t royalties, but that’s what folks call it.) For that goal, I’m unsuccessful. How important is a support system to you? I’ve long said that critics of my writing can’t be crueller than my family. That’s only gotten more true, as the years pass. That said, readers, fans, friends (online and in person) are who remind me of who I am vs. who family tell me I am. (Which doesn’t even make sense and involves a bunch of logical fallacies, among other problems, but according to them, it’s all in my head.) What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve received? Best and worst in what way? There’s bad grammar advice, like the claim that commas mean “and” (they don’t). There’s bad plotting advice, like the claim that you must outline (I always scored higher on essays w/o outlines). There’s bad revision advice, like the claim that you must trim your first draft and kill…  — Read More »

Taurean Watkins

Finally got to see the video, and yes it’s past 2:30 AM EST where I am, I’m a morning person, remember? It was nice to finally put a voice to the person I’ve only ever imagined in text, maybe someday I’ll see you beyond a still photo head shot (Which is nice, just to clarify) I’m only just starting to do videos where I’m on camera. Like you, apart from my new iPhone, the only camera I have access to is the family camcorder we got this summer. I’m still playing around with it. Unlike most people of “My Generation” I’m NOT used to filming myself. and I didn’t start texting until my 20s, and my teen years weren’t “Forever and a Day” ago, compared to most writers I know who are at far different life stages than me, and only two are in my age bracket. While I certainly agree writers at all ages and stages can learn from each other, it’s a rare treat to meet writers in my age bracket who aren’t married with kids, because I do feel there’s this shift from being a non-parent to parent that can cause a gap with non-parents who are friends and/or business partners who are parents, not out of spite or jealosy, it’s just different and hard to navigate at times. Like how hobbyists have a different (AND VALID) way of viewing say, photography, and those who shoot photos for a living, or at a professional level. The love…  — Read More »

Taurean Watkins

I forgot my answers to the questions- How do you define success? Like others have said, it’s too nebulous to define any one way, and this the only time I’ll use the word “nebulous” to describe writing-related stuff. How important is a support system to you? It’s VITAL. Unlike Jami and my close writer friends who have more direct family support, I had to build my support system from scratch. My family (Those I’ve told) aren’t against it, but they just don’t “Get it.” It took my several years before I met other writers who read and respect what I write, and write it themselves, albeit for readers younger than I can manage at this time, and if you ever visited my site linked to my many comments here, you can get what I’m talking about… I started T.A.A. in part to find others like me. So far my audience hasn’t grown as much as I’d like, but I’ll get there. What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve received? Best Advice: It’s never too late to find your joy. I didn’t learn to love reading until I was 16. It wasn’t because I had dyslexia or other problems reading. It was not finding what I loved until I was older that was the problem. Being a children’s author, I sometimes feel left out because I wasn’t read to when I was little, and had more favorite television shows when I was a kid than books, and I wish I…  — Read More »

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Interviews with artists, cool! And I love how it basically sums up a lot of the main points you’ve been making throughout your blog posts. 🙂 Though it could be argued that all points are “main”, lol. Definition of success? I actually once made a very long list of different definitions of success people give, apart from the cliched fame or fortune. But my favorite definition so far (it’s my personal definition), is: To be able to: 1) Do what you love most in the world (and do it very frequently) 2) Be with the person or people you love most in the world 3) Be loved by the person or people you love most in the world 4) Live in your favorite place in the world If someone has at least one of the above, I already consider this person successful, lol. So I feel super successful, cuz I have all four. 😉 No wonder I’m always such a happy person, lol. I like this definition of success more than the “rich and famous” one, because if I (and the people I care about) are not happy, what’s the point? Lol, but that’s just my opinion. XD Best writing advice: This is hard to choose. But this must include: 1) all readers like different things, so even if one person hates your story, it doesn’t mean that no one will like it, lol, and thus the important point that it’s impossible to please everyone. 2) No one writing “rule”…  — Read More »

Taurean Watkins

Well Serena, I don’t know what Jami’s response will be, but I have to counter your stance on discipline- I nearly drove myself MAD last year, and the year before because I was too strict with myself. I would be a slave to my computer, writing, revising, rewriting, that I didn’t read enough of books I didn’t write, and when “Butt in Chair” gets to the point where you don’t eat, sleep, or SHOWER for days on end, you’re not in a good place, trust me. Sorry if I got a bit TMI, but this is the painful truth I’ve LIVED, and I still have to watch the shower thing, but I say all this to remind you and others between your methodology and mine. I may not have perfectionist tenancies the way Jami describes them, but I do have problems gauging what’s “Enough” because I’ll never move forward if I stay stuck in neutral, and again, try to understand that for some of us, too much discipline is STIFLING, which doesn’t mean we have zero. Like Jami, I want to have cleaner early drafts than I used to, and after the DECADE Gabriel took (This is just the actual book, don’t get me started on query letters, you know how crazy they make me…), so for me, the messy rough drafts aren’t enough, and I just don’t want every thing I work on to take YEARS, and that’s before I ever try to query it! Those highly stream of…  — Read More »

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Oh don’t worry. I hope I didn’t come off like a nasty drill surgeon to myself. XD When I say discipline, it’s merely to make myself write e.g. 2 hours each day, or if that’s too hard, 1 hour each day. And make up for it the next day if I missed it. As much as I love writing, I really need to do OTHER things throughout the day to vary my experience, and because I just physically can’t really do much more than 2 hours a day. I think the longest I ever did was 4 hours a day…though there were times in the past where I was rushing short stories and did considerably more than 4 a day…

You’re right that my method of “discipline/ determination” works especially well for pantsers like me, but might be harder for people who like to plan a lot before starting.

And for the marriage thing, as I said in reply to Jami above, getting more time for writing is not my ONLY reason for not marrying, but unfortunately I can’t reveal my main reason for wanting to stay single. XD

And I’ll emphasize here too: I am not against marriage for OTHER people. I just don’t want it for myself. In general, I think marriage is a good thing. 🙂

Taurean Watkins

Serena, I read your replies above and again, sorry if I sounded mad. These are social issues (Regarding marriage and parenthood) that I have strong feelings for, not just from my personal experience, but those I know in and out of my family. I truly never meant to come off like I was judging your reasons for not wanting marriage or children, I just wanted to offer my viewpoint being male and my wish for more male empowerment outside the context of sports. (Not all men are addicted to sports just like how Jami’s not obsessed with shoes the way some women are) I’m grateful I live in a country that’s at least starting to acknowledge this discrepancy and I hope more parents and educators wake up to this problem, because regardless of class or culture, demonizing all boys and men is no less cruel and demoralizing than the horrid lot women have dealt with and continue to do so. I am aware and do understand some of this can be cultural (As Serena points out) but that doesn’t mean it’s less harmful to boys and men and it is girls and women. I just wish there were positive stories for boys and men to see in literature and in life. I’m not in denial of the jerks (Father or not) who sadly do exist, I just wish we saw more positive and nuanced portrayals of fathers in books without snarky commentary, that’s fair, is it not? But there are…  — Read More »

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