Episode 52: What's the Worst That Could Happen?

In this episode:

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What's the worst that can happen if you don't sit down and write? Well, your book never gets finished. Book coach Jennie Nash and Melanie Parish talk about fear as it relates to getting words on the page.

Book coaching is partly about craft but just as equally-- if not more so-- about support. Great words are the end result of an emotional process that takes two people - the writers, and the readers. The book coach stands in for the reader and can give you the "you can do this!" motivation you need to get it done.

This week Mel celebrates getting done on time with the help of some MAJOR coffee intake. How did she take time to do it? Sheer determination, and the knowledge that taking time to write and the end result of getting her pages done is much better than wallowing in self-doubt and not spending the time to do it.

Every time I sit down to write I’m still nervous, it’s still nerve-wracking...it’s taken me a really long time to come to terms with the fact that this is something I can do, that this is something I’m good at.
— Melanie Parish


Self doubt throws up roadblocks ALL the time - but the alternative is going nowhere and not finishing your projects. The other alternative is to just try - even if it's hard, even if it's scary, even if you fail a bunch (we all do!). 

Mel says that book coaching has absolutely been vital to her motivation in working on her book. Getting validation on what she's doing well vs doing poorly has been instrumental in the sense that she's gained an understanding of what works, and why it works, and how to move that through the rest of her writing while ditching the stuff that's holding her back. 

When you do things well and you know it, you can keep doing that thing well—you can be conscious of how you’re doing that thing well... it’s like if you go to a golf coach because your swing isn’t working, they’ll tell you that your stance is good, you grip is good, but you need to work on your shoulders.
— Jennie Nash


The reason why a lot of writing workshops and typical teaching in writing doesn't work is that you don't get the kind of individualized feedback that you get with book coaching. If you don't get any specifics on why something works or doesn't work, you can't take that criticism or feedback and better the rest of your writing. Abby says that in her fine arts classes in college, you weren't allowed to say "I like it" or "I don't like it."  You were forced to be specific in your criticism or praise, and that's what book coaching does as well. You can't be steered in the right direction with generalities. . 

Writing is a teachable skill, and good writing is a teachable skill.
— Jennie Nash

Episode 51: Writing Under the Influence of Emotional Exhaustion

In this episode:

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— Abby, stuck in a dark Macy's dressing room, sans pants


Abby deals with some S-H-I-T : emotional exhaustion! Power outages! Migraines! ER visits! Parents! Writing wedding vows, shopping for dresses, trips out of state and sick kids! Writing gets pushed aside sometimes when we're dealing with real life. This week Abby channels her emotional woes into her writing and uses it to write an epic car crash scene for her book. 


(One of the great things about Author Accelerator coaches is that they totally get that you have a real life and they're not going to give you a hard time when you've got to drop everything and deal with it. As parents, our families always come first!)

We talk all day long about show don’t tell - what that means is what you’re doing right here. We see Bernadette’s dad trying his very best, trying so hard to be a good dad, but he’s FROM THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. What we feel is the impossibility of this situation.
— Jennie Nash


Abby admits that she wrote this chapter twice - the first time around felt a little flat. When she went back and read it, she put the action in but not any thoughts or feelings that Bernadette is experiencing. She added in what would be happening to her emotionally, all these extra details, that really made the scene on the second go around. Learning to write better is about self awareness - there are NO RANDOM THINGS in writing. Everything has meaning, everything connects to the story, everything drives characters and plot and meaning. Make your events, your characters, make everything matter, and it's going to matter to your reader.

Or another way - it's like braiding hair, according to Jennie. You can put something in and the reader holds onto it, and when you bring that thread back into the braid/story, it's very satisfying to the reader to see that character or point or thread again. When you don't re-weave a storyline or a character back in the reader wonders what happened and what they're missing. 

Moms who write - what we have is a more active imagination than the average person. Our job as a writer is to imagine other people’s worlds, make things go wrong, make bad things happen for our characters. You can’t be a good writer and sit down, do that imaginative work, and then shut it off in the rest of your life. Writing is emotional work, too—it’s not just intellectual work.
— Jennie Nash

Episode 50: Clint Edwards and #Expectations

NSFK. Let me repeat. NSFK. (Not Suitable for Kids!)

Buckle up, Buttercup, because this episode will take you all over the map when it comes to parenting and writing. Mel said it’s because we're "Grade A Bullshitters" and Clint said, "We gave the podcasting world a real gift with this one. You're welcome." We cover everything from children who narc on their parents, to dogs who pee like fountains, writing when you also have a full-time job, and... well, LIFE. Because sometimes you just have to sit back, look at things, and laugh...

In this episode:

Today we're wrapping up our June Father's Day series with Clint Edwards about parenting, writing, and all the glorious mess in between (figurative, mostly, but also literal. Kids are freakin' messy).

Clint is the author of the popular blog, I Have No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog, This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things (Parenting, Marriage, Madness), and I'm Sorry...Love, Your Husband. He's been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and like, a dozen other awesome things that you can totally check out by going to his website, www.byclintedwards.com.

Clint gives us the skinny on balancing a full time job and great writing while ALSO being a husband and father. It's a lot, you guys, but we all understand because that's what we're all about here at MomWrites/DadWrites/ParentWrites. It's hard to prioritize your writing when you've got everything else on your plate, and it often involves getting creative when you're finding time for your work. (Yes, sometimes this means getting up really early or devoting your lunch breaks to writing instead of food, or handing your children the iPad and letting PBS Kids raise them for an hour. We're sorry/notsorry about that.)

We also talk about realistic expectations when it comes to making a living as a writer - it's a hard road, and you may never get to the point where the only job you have is putting out amazing work, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. For many of us, it's part therapy/part creative outlet, and it does us no favors to ignore or pack away that part of ourselves. Plus, it teaches our kids that we're actual human beings with dreams and ambitions and not just walking/talking/scolding snack vending machines.

It’s not really about money, it’s really about passion and interest in what you’re doing.
— Clint Edwards


Ain't that the truth.

Episode 49: Creative Obsession with Dan Blank

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In this episode:

This week, Abby sits down to have a conversation with writer dad Dan Blank about obsession. Dan dedicates his days to helping creatives, specifically writers, with all. the. things. And today he and Abby talk about what to do when obsession derails you from your creative work. They talk about how to harness that obsession, when to give yourself permission to take a break from your creative work, and how to get back on track if you do.

We talk about Dan's speciality - helping creatives get the most out of their time. Dan's Mastermind class welcomes creatives of all stripes - writers, photographers, artists, etc. Dan's class tackles issues we deal with on a regular basis, co-operatively - you get feedback not only from Dan, but all your Mastermind classmates. 

Obsession is a necessary component for writers. If you can't obsess about your book for the time it takes to get it done, it won't get done. Donald Miller of the Storybrand podcast states that the first quality you have to have in order to write a book is that you have to be able obsess about it for at least a year in order to see it through. A year! We know - it's a long time, but that's usually about how long it takes (if not longer) when you've got a full plate, as most of us do. 

I don’t believe in balance, I believe in obsessions.
— Dan Blank


In life, we've got so much on our plates - unless you're radically clear about what's important to you you're going to flake on everything, go a mile wide and an inch deep on everything. Radical clarity is knowing what you want to do, and why. Once you've got that lined up your motivations and plans can fall more easily into place. 

Obsession is a two-sided coin, though. What happens when you obsess about the wrong thing? How do you even know when you're obsessing about the wrong thing? 

Abby says that her real-life stuff was getting in the way of her book stuff - a cross country move has sort of taken over her life for the past six months. Writing and creativity was her solace, but she hit a rough spot for about two weeks where she couldn't think of anything else but getting the move arranged. Despite showing up for her writing every day, her brain was not on board with it. Why?

A lot of us have a challenge between short term and long term goals - reacting to crises, emergencies, need-to-deal-with-this stuff is very much in the short term. And these things happen to all of us - there are points in life where sabbaticals, breaks, whatever - are absolutely necessary. Remember to put in a boundary, though - give yourself a time limit. A day, a week, a month, whatever you need, but make sure you check in with your work. Take a look at it even for five minutes once in a while and say, "I see you, you're there, you're waiting for me when I come back." Instead of feeling bad about it, you're going to feel positive knowing that you're taking care of the things you need to, but that the work is waiting in anticipation for you to return to it. 

Sometimes it doesn't matter what words - just that words are flowing. When you feel uninspired, it might be garbage, but it might not! We surprise ourselves. Melanie often uses negative emotions to connect it to her work in just the right place, and sometimes we can use what we're feeling to get the words out. 

Dan compares this to showing up no matter what - this is your profession, your chosen passion. You'll lose the battle if you hem and haw on whether or not you have time for your work. Abby decided that even though everything else was up in the air with her move, she was going to show up every morning even if the words wouldn't come. Dan says that writing every day, even if you don't feel like it, averts the crisis of guilt that happens when you don't show up. Holding yourself accountable, and having others hold you accountable, is something you can use to give yourself the kick in the pants. Sometimes you have to create this for yourself via writers groups, critique partners, or certain individuals that you know can motivate you when you're stuck. 

Many thanks to Dan Blank for coming on the podcast again! 

Episode 48: Interview with Writer-Dad Jim Heskett


Happy Father's Day to all you writer-dads out there! In honor of, well, YOU, we bring you some interviews with our favorite writer-dads. Kicking it off is thriller writer Jim Heskett. Jim-- besides being pretty kick-butt himself-- has written a pretty kick-butt book chocked full of tips and motivation to help you put your butt in the chair and get the work done. No excuses.

Today he shares some of his tips with Abby and Mel. If Jim can balance a full-time non-writing job and a toddler and still get the writing done, so can you!

So listen up, all of you. Writer-moms and writer-dads alike!

 Jim is the author of over a dozen books including thrillers, the dystopian theories, short story collections, and very pertinent to our podcast: The Juggling Author: How to Write Four Books a Year While Family, Friends, and a Full-Time Job. Which is PERFECT for MomWrites listeners, especially Mel and Abby, who find themselves juggling all of these things AND cross country moves... and podcasts.

If you want to accomplish your writing goals you need to prioritize, organize, and cut all the fat.
— Jim Heskett

Identifying your most productive time of the day is essential to figuring out what works for you. If you're a morning person, jump right in after waking up. Some people are more productive in the afternoon or evening--try to reduce responsibilities around these periods to free up writing time. 

We also discuss the importance of connecting with your readers--if you expect people to buy things from you, it helps if they see you as a real live person who will respond and connect with their readership. Jim encourages his readers to write him with their thoughts about his work. What does he do when he gets negative feedback?

As rough as it is, people are entitled to their opinions—or, maybe they weren’t the intended audience.
— Jim Heskett

Most importantly, take the constructive criticism and leave tactless comments behind. 

Jim talks with us about writing with kids - sometimes, you have to learn to adapt. Sometimes it means writing in break rooms at work, writing using the Scrivener app, finding bits and pieces of the day to turn into writing time. It takes practice going from parent mode to writer mode and back again--learning how to focus quickly is a skill, and the more you do it, the easier it gets. 

If you like thrillers, make sure you check out Jim's Amazon page and also his website, where you voracious readers will love to see that he will send you THREE of his thrillers for FREE. 

So, happy Father's Day! Rock on all you writer-dads! 

Episode 47: Jennie Teaches Grammar! Italics in Internal Thought

In this episode:

To italicize or not to italicize? That is the question. Abby uses too many italics, and Jennie gives some good guidelines to help writers decide when to italicize.

Abby turned in a submission that was heavy on internal thought, which meant she had italicized huge chunks of each page. It was distracting, but she wasn't sure how to fix it. Rewrite? Just un-italicize? Leave it?

This episode is perfect for those not-so-perfect writers (like Abby!) who sometimes find themselves tangled in the sticky, tricky web of grammatical mistakes.

Recommended Reading:

Episode 46: KJ Dell'Antonia-- Happier Parent, Happier Writer

This episode we welcome KJ Dell'Antonia, former NYT parenting writer/editor and cohost of the #AmWriting podcast! Her book, How To Be A Happier Parent, comes out in August 2018.

Here are the highlights!

-We discuss how to shifting your perspective from the mom guilt of putting your writing first, to setting an example for your kids with your writing.  

- If you're going to write about parenting, whether it be essays or journalism or stories, it's important to balance the respect for your kids' privacy while still being cognizant of the fact that parents have a need to commiserate over the common aspects of parenting that everyone deals with (KJ sites a favorite essay by Naomi Shulman, linked below). Universal truths speak volumes to your readers. 

 - When you sign up for something like NaNoWriMo, one of the challenges is to keep going after you get to the end. It's great to finish, and it's great to win, but don't put it down for too long! According to KJ, forming the habit is the hardest part. It's okay to put your writing first most of the time. While family comes first for all moms and dads, you're still allowed to be yourself, to have this part of yourself to nurture and maintain. And sometimes you have to get up early to get that time, but it's not permanent. One day the kids will sleep later than you! "

If you’re working on a long form project, make sure you open the file every day. Touch it every day, give it thought every day, and most of the time you’ll do more.
— KJ Dell'Antonia

-Having your work right in front of your, every single day, is paramount - out of sight is really out of mind. 

- Another great way to hold yourself accountable is to set goals with writer friends for a particular word count or writing goal, and send each other updates. It's not competitive as much as it is motivating! 

- If you parent with a partner, split up your responsibilities if you can. If you go to two hockey performances, the partner gets the orchestra concert, and when you get a night off you get to spend that time writing. If you're solo that day--or every day--bring your laptop! Ten words are better than nothing. In regards to watching your kids play sports, according to research, "The least-favorite part of the sport is the ride home." They don't need to be watched and don't want to be watched 100% of the time, and you can use that time to your advantage. And it's OKAY to say no to All The Activities. Your kids can pick and choose their passions, and it's healthy to have to prioritize and make choices. It's OKAY to tell your kids no sometimes, that you will take care of whatever when you finish what you're doing, it's okay to let them figure things out for themselves (we're talking about getting themselves a glass of milk, not asking your three year old to walk themselves to school). 

What stops most people from getting paid to write isn’t failure, it’s failure to do it.
— KJ Dell'Antonia

Further reading:

Naomi Shulman, Requiem for A Minivan: 


Episode 45: Audrey Monke Interview Part Two

In this episode:

In the second part of our two-part interview with Audrey Monke, we discuss why she decided to write her book and the process she went through in deciding what to put in--and what to leave out.

Audrey said she always loved writing, and had a lot of practical practice via her job as camp director. Having a parenting blog gave her great feedback and gave her the confidence she needed to take on a book project. She says the combination of camp, parenting, and positive psychology was her "thing" that she had that no one else did, and the writing itself went great, but when she discovered Jennie Nash and Author Accelerator everything changed. "It was the single best thing decision that I made in this whole process!"

In revising her manuscript with Jennie, Audrey says that she threw a lot of words out, and she had to become ok with that.  "It's part of the process," Audrey says. She was able to focus on a few things that are most important to her as a parent and camp director and discern what are the most important topics that parents want to hear about as well. She was able to take the research-based concepts like optimism, grit, resilience, and kindness, and narrow her topics down, write a summary, write concepts for each chapter before she tackled the actual writing. 

On the topic of grit we talk about how growth can only happen outside of your comfort zone. To grow and improve (for example, using constructive criticism to improve our writing and taking that scary step of sharing your writing with others), you have to venture outside of your circle of comfort, but there's a sweet spot. Beyond your comfort zone there's the blackout zone--where no growth happens---so we need to be cognizant of that, especially when we're encouraging our kids to take risks. Goal setting can be a useful tool in both taking risks at camp and within your own writing, as well, and overcoming discomfort is an important part of the process. "Challenge by choice" is an important concept Audrey uses at camp to help kids reach their self-determined goals.

Thanks to Audrey Monke for coming on the MomWrites podcast! Audrey's blog is http://sunshine-parenting.com, and you can find her on twitter under the handle @GACSunshine. 

Episode 44: Audrey Monke on Parenting & Writing, Part 1


An interview with veteran summer camp director and parenting author Audrey Monke. Join us as Audrey talks to Abby and Mel about the challenges of writing nonfiction, as well as her upcoming book about how to bring camp home. 

In this episode:

On this Episode of MomWrites, we're talking with Audrey Monke, about her awesome life as camp director/mom/parenting expert, and the knowledge she's gained in 30 years of experience as a camp director.

We discuss the tough lessons of childhood and parenting - and both in the age of social media. At what age is it appropriate to start asking your kids' permission to post their images on social media, and how do we start teaching responsibility with social media? According to Audrey, early. Earlier than you might think! Kids pick up a surprising amount of information from their peers and from media itself and are often aware of things like Facebook and Instagram long before they're actually exposed to them.Audrey talks about what it's like raising kids AND training counselors AND caring for campers at in her 30 years of camp directing experience. Audrey has a masters degree in psychology and has done extensive research on positive psychology and parenting, eventually turning this knowledge into a blog, www.sunshine-parenting.com, and her upcoming book. 

We talk about how making one small change in your family routine can make a huge difference in your day, your kids' day, and your family overall. Even if there's a little bit of resistance, kids actually want to connect with you and you'll be surprised at how much they come to rely and expect little traditions you can introduce into your family. Naming three great things that happened to each of you that day, taking turns making meals for the family, or other small traditions full of connection and caring can go a long way towards maintaining relationships. 

Modeling is a powerful tool--one of the best gifts you can give your children is the ability to calm yourself when anxious or upset. Your kids are watching everything, and healthy coping mechanisms are one of the most useful things you can model for your children. 


Check back in next week for the conclusion to our episode with Audrey Monke!

Episode 43: WWYRD? a.k.a. What Would Your Reader Do?

In this episode:

We start off the episode talking about Mel, and it’s a shame she’s not there to hear me gush about her work. But I had read her original manuscript, and then this week she had given me her new manuscript to read and HOLY CRAP! It was awesome!

So, Jennie talks a little about GOOD vs. GREAT. And that bad work isn’t exactly bad, it’s just not on the page. It’s still in your head. But what writers have to do is make it accessible to the reader.

Jennie goes on to talk about my middle school voice and the empathy you have to have for your readers—particularly when you write for kids. Jennie says, “God bless all the middle school teachers!” We talk about the love scenes I write between my main characters Bernadette and Logan (or Lucas, as Jennie had stuck in her brain that afternoon). I can remember very clearly going through all the emotions of a middle school romance. I think most people (rightly so) have blocked their middle school experience. Let’s face it, it’s awkward and slightly traumatic, and that’s on the best of days. But I think the point that Jennie is making is that I write well for middle school readers because I can identify and relate to them. (What does that say about me?!) And that’s what all writers need to tap into—the brain of their readers. What do they feel? What would they say? And how does reading your book help them?

We also talk about connecting with your potential readers. At the time we recorded this I was in Dan Blank’s mastermind group where we were talking about this same thing. Being a former 9th grade teacher, I just naturally gravitate towards people like teachers, librarians, etc… and I talk about how I connected with a former colleague from the English department at my old school who was now teaching middle school English. Plus I had a pretty cool idea for reaching readers!

If you have a message—which all writers do—and you are writing for kids, you can’t let the adult voice creep in. So, Jennie and I work our way around the smallest adult-sounding phrase in my story: different is cool. And we finesse those three little words until we have wrung out all the “adult.”

The author of Story Genius, Lisa Cron, says, “Everyone is the protagonist of their own story.” And that idea was key to removing the adult voice in this particular writing situation. So, if I stop and think about the character who is saying “different is cool” and think about how he would speak if this were HIS STORY, then I’m able to make those words come out more authentic to his voice.

We end by talking about some of the books I’m incorporating into my writing. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my inspirations, and Jennie said it was one of the books that was instrumental in her becoming a writer. That book is a perfect example of “words have so much meaning and you can interpret them in so many ways.”

Referenced in this episode:

Dan Blank at WeGrowMedia's mastermind class

Dan Blank also has a fantastic Friday newsletter for creatives, so make sure you sign up while you are there. He also has a great podcast, Dabblers vs. Doers. 

The Winged Pen

The "Pennies" write a lot of great MG articles. They have some really great themed series, and my particular favorite is Love Letter to a Book. They also run a great Twitter contest called Four on 400, so make sure you check out the amazing advice they dish. (And bonus, one of the contributors, Julie Artz, is an Author Accelerator book coach!) 

Episode 42: Lorrie Tom, Family of Writers

In this episode:

Abby talks with Lorraine Tom about getting kids involved in writing, the simple ingredients for generating a love of reading and writing in your home, and providing your kids with the skills and tools to become effective writers. 

Abby and Lorrie go back a little bit, and Lorrie and Jennie go way way back - clear back to 2005 when Lorrie began taking classes from Jennie, before Author Accelerator was even a thing. Lorrie's a writing teacher (middle and elementary school, and family writing courses) and gives Abby some insight into making writing a family activity. 

According to Lorrie, even the smallest kids know how to tell a story, and although their process is different than an adult's, it's still the same thing that we do when we're telling a story. Story connects people, and it's something we can share between generations. Celebrate successes by reading your child's work back to them and finding things you both love about it. Create simple opportunities where kids can join you in your writing craft - setting aside time to sit together at the table, and providing them real materials (notebooks, pens, keyboards/word processors) give them ownership of their process and their writing topics. You have to have an identity as a writer and a confidence in your process, and this starts with ownership over their work. 

The fastest way to to shut down a burgeoning writer is to criticize their grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. It is important to separate creativity and revision - knowing that revision helps the reader understand the piece but it is secondary to the writing itself. Making sure your writer knows what they did right, praising them for taking risks and remembering to teach into what they already know is even more important than knowing all the spots they missed capitalization and punctuation. 

The honest truth is, getting your butt in a chair and writing every day creates writers.
— Lorrie Tom

The environment and opportunity for writing are variable, but essential. We often make it too complicated. It's not easy - showing up day after day is both the hardest and the simplest part. 

Lorrie explains name stories: Using the example of a Sondra Ciscneros vignette, she had her students write the stories behind their names. A project like that can be a good way to introduce an interesting project for kids. 

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that having a home where there is tons of reading/access to books, makes readers. It’s not intense instruction, it’s exposure and passion.
— Lorrie Tom


Further Reading: 

Writing without Teachers
By Peter Elbow
The House on Mango Street
By Sandra Cisneros

Episode 41: Voice and Message

How to Avoid Being Preachy When You're a Mom and That's Your Gig

In This Episode: 

In a conversation with Author Accelerator book coach Kemlo Aki, Abby solved a problem she'd been having with a book. It was a little problem, but a problem nonethelesss - should kids have cell phones in her middle grades book? Kemlo pointed out an elegant solution and suggested Abby do some further research with actual middle graders. 

Abby and Jennie discuss the importance of timing - how to percolate a potential relationship over a period of time in a realistic way. Abby even went and did MORE research about middle-school baseball seasons to make sure she had a realistic timeline for the game Logan invites Bernadette to! A middle-school reader, especially a baseball player, would be aware of these things so it's important to dial in these details so you don't inadvertently bring the reader out of the story. 

Adult-like thoughts vs middle grade thoughts: If you're writing for kids, t's important to catch those little moments where you might be writing more as an adult than a kid - this is important not only for verbiage but phrasing as well, especially in how a younger person would think about and react to things (not having the perspective of age and experience of an adult). 

How to avoid sounding preachy or over-messag-y when you're trying to impart a point: THE QUESTION OF ALL QUESTIONS, according to Jennie. When you do have something to say and you do have a point (which is often the case when writing kids books, and you have to be careful at every turn because the reader will catch these things, especially older ones). Don't make your point to clearly or too cleanly - your characters won't have it all worked out in their heads, either, because they're learning this themselves too. We want to see these characters come to this realization over the course of the book because it means more if they have to work for it than if they already know it at the outset. 

Episode 40: The Big 4-0

The Big 4-0, subtitled Can you make him die faster? 

Good news! In this episode, Jennie tells Abby and Mel that they're in totally different (awesome!) places than they were before as writers. Abby and Mel agree that the problems that they're fixing in their writing aren't as daunting as they were before they started the coaching process ten deadlines ago. 

In this episode:

  • "While I wanted to be a writer before, and I thought I kinda knew how to do it, I really needed someone to show me how. It took some guidance to get me on the right path. If you'd asked me last summer, 'Are you a writer?' I would say no. But now I feel like I can say yes!" - Abby 
  • How do you write when there's no such thing as a normal week? Abby's been dealing with 3-day-long power outages, Mel's been dealing with illness rampaging through her house, and we know every other writer parent out there gets handed all sorts of things day-to-day that get in the way of working on our stories. So, what to do? Work through it, write through it. The podcast is called MomWrites for a reason - not WritesMom. We Mom first, we write in the margins when we have to!
  • Jennie and Mel review her third chapter, something partially retrieved from her old manuscript with new writing weaved in. Now that the big problems with the story are solved, we're circling back and adding in more nuance. We say this a lot around here, but writing is iterative - it's never just one pass through. We go back again and again, improving the story, the plot, the characters and their connection to each other and the events they're experiencing. 
  • Meryl Streep once said about acting the part a queen: "Oh it's easy - it's how other people react to you." The same thing is true for writing, especially world-building. Character reactions to events in the story show how the people in this world feel about their situation, and an easy and slick way to do this is through interaction between characters, their thoughts, feelings and dialogue. 
  • Logic issues: where are we in time and space? This is especially important in action scenes. Anything that makes your reader think too hard about what your character is doing, where they're standing, etc., takes the reader out of the story. We don't want this! Time and space needs to be seamless--sometimes it seems silly, don't make your reader figure it out!

Episode 39: Flashbacks

In this episode:

The short of it:

Flashbacks! And how Abby epically screws them up. 

The long of it:

Raising the stakes is not necessarily about high drama - it’s about raising the emotional resonance of what events mean to your character.
— Jennie Nash

Abby and Jennie talk about her most recent revisions and being in the lens of your character, seeing things from their eyes. This is a great episode if you want to get into the nitty gritty of character motivation and background. What writers often miss is the including appropriate reactions in how their particular characters would react to events given their own personalities, histories, and quirks. 

When you bring up the cause and effect trajectory it can mean big things, dominoes falling, scene-to-scene trajectory in the story, but it's also true on a sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph level. Abby was able to insert a major idea, the idea of leaving childhood behind, into a scene where her character is looking through a drawer of old toys, but she included a lot of other memories for her character that weren't necessarily pertinent to the point of the scene. Jennie says that when you're setting up an idea like this you're introducing a whole theme that you can then explore, but it's important to maintain your focus on the point of what you've introduced. Don't get lost in the trees - keep the forest in sight. 

Jennie and Abby continue to discuss flashbacks, their potential problems, and how to spot and solve them. In real life, memories reference things that have happened to us in order to help us move through problems and make meaning of what's happening to us in the present. Flashbacks can be an important tool for imparting information to the reader in a creative way. It's great to have multiple triggers for flashbacks, but they need to be brief and have a specific point to avoid it turning into an info dump, and too many memories at once can lose the point of the scene.The whole point of a flashback is for the character to have an opportunity to make sense of what's happening to them. 

Lastly, we discuss what these events in the scenes mean to Abby's character, Bernadette, and how they drive the scene and keep story-level problem front and center. Everything needs to serve the story - to highlight what the main problem is and keep weaving that thread throughout the plot. If you need to go back in your story and add additional details to shore up that thread or the themes you're trying to impart - do it! Worldbuilding in the beginning is an essential key in helping the reader make sense of later points in your story.


Episode 38: All. The. Things.

In this episode:

Doing All The Things

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is pulling it all together - what you know about your story, what you know you should do with your story, and all the plot lines and characterizations going on in your head. In this episode Mel and Jennie discuss raising the stakes, avoiding info dumps, and where the line is between not enough and too much information. 

People either think one thing or the other:

‘I suck and everything I write sucks’ OR ‘I am amazing and everything I write is brilliant.’ Either end is not a good place to be because it’s not real. You’re never always good or always bad, and developing your muscle of discernment is an important skill.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie points out that Mel needs to work on remembering your character's history and motivations when continuing the story - be more in your character's heads. When your character is an expert on something, or is well-versed in a certain profession, they need to swim in that water all the time and see things through their own personal lens, and you've got to commit to consistency in their reactions to events. Characters are rarely neutral about things that affect them or the things or people they care about. 

When we talk about raising stakes in a story, people always think it’s drama - that could do it, but it really means raising the emotional stakes in the individual.
— Jennie Nash

Jennie and Mel also address info dumps: When you're learning how to engage the reader sometimes it's three steps forward two steps back - lots of repetition means that you're already getting down what you need. There's nothing wrong with doing an info dump as long as you recognize that you need to eventually revise and make it more nuanced. The kind of nuance you're looking for is subtle and placed in thought, dialogue, story details, etc. Info dumps in general box the reader out, but the reader wants to be IN the story, IN the scene, IN the character's head. Ask yourself: "How can I put this back in a moment, back in the scene, and filter the rest of the information through the narrator or character themselves?"  The goal is to recognize when you're doing it and know that you can go back and clean it up. It's much easier to go back and fix something that's too much than not enough

I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.
— Stephen King

Stephen King says "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing". If you're not dialing it up to 11, maybe you need to stop playing it safe and take the risks you need to go farther in your story. Fear of what, though? The fear is about looking at your true self - if you have to sit and examine the nitty gritty details of how your characters make decisions, how YOU or anyone you know might react to anything in your story - that can be a frightening thing. As writers, some of our biggest fears surround being exposed when our readers see us for who we really are through our work.

Abby, Jennie and Mel close out the conversation with a discussion about art and how it teaches us and connects us as human beings. Many writers seem to have this fundamental dissatisfaction with the way the world is, and a fundamental desire to understand it better. The art that captures our hearts is that which imparts some sort of understanding about those universal struggles and truths about the world. That--the connection with others--is what keeps us coming back to our favorite works of art again and again, whether in writing, photography, painting, or music.