Personal Anecdote, Writing 101

Look Who’s Back – It’s Mé!

To quote the infamous Aaliyah and her partner Timbaland, “It’s been a long time…shouldn’t have left you without a dope beat to step to, step to, step to, step to…” I know it’s been a while since my last post my family, and I have missed you guys so much. However, I promise that it’s all happened with good reasons. I have tons of new great things to tell you to help you on your writing journey. So keep hanging with me, please family!

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First of all, for those of you who don’t know, I own and operate The Writers’ Block, a literacy and tutoring company based in Charleston, SC. I am a professional, private tutor and workshop presenter. This summer has seen a significant increase in new clients and new opportunities to work with various organizations into the coming school year, so organizing my time (yikes!) has been hectic, to say the least. Along with the obvious (getting paid to do what I love to do for free!), another great thing about this change is that it’s brought new writing and publishing clients my way. I will soon be embarking on the perilous and beautiful road of ghostwriting.

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Now, some of you may be wondering. Why ghostwriting MéShelle? You are already a published poet with a new book set to release this year. (I promise…it is coming. And the wait has been worth it!) Plus, you’re working on your first YA fantasy, fiction novel with all those amazing female character story arcs you plan to write about in your next blog post. (I know I’m reaching with the audience voice here….humor me.) Why….I’m glad you ask.

The truth:

1. It’s an amazing opportunity to help someone tell their story of survival and positive manifestation. This new client wants to encourage others to live a full life and to teach them how to navigate the rough waters of abuse, depression, and isolation through an engaging, powerful true story. I am ALL about that. This individual has waited years to find the right partner and finally built up the courage to open up about things that have never been said or previously publicized. This is the point of being a writing coach and ghostwriter for me: help others find their voice. Then help them share their story…because we all need it.

2. There’s money in it. Let’s be honest. Until you hit it big, win some great contests, get a fellowship, or build a loyal fan base, the life of an author is fulfilling but not always lucrative. Ghostwriting is a great way to make extra cash while still honing one’s abilities. Plus, you learn how to write in someone else’s voice and see from a new perspective. This type of work challenges you as a writer because it is not your story to tell. You are merely a vehicle for someone else’s words and experiences. Every writer cannot handle this. For those that can, it presents a key opportunity to learn some new tricks and reach some new personal depths. As a fiction author, I am particularly excited because, to my characters, their lives are nonfiction. I want to experience the differences and inherent sensibilities that come with this type of work. And get paid. Did I mention that part? GET PAID.

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This is actually very important to talk about, so I am glad that you brought it up. Let’s talk about being paid to write. For those of us in love with this passion, isn’t that a goal, a dream, a wish for yourself at some level? However, it is unfortunate to note that there are many writers in the world not living their dream. They love writing, are good at it, and are not getting paid for it? Why? It has nothing to do usually with the amount of talent or even opportunity. They are simply not asking for it.

Many of you have built up in your head this belief that your writing isn’t good enough or you’re not in it for the money. However, if you have a gift or passion, but you cannot pursue it because your time also has to be spent funding the food on the table, then you are kidding yourself. Why not get paid to do what you love to do for free? I promise…it does NOT take away from the passion or the purity of it. As a matter of fact, the financial gain can often give you more impetus, resources, and opportunity to pursue further education and training in this craft. It does not make you a cheat or a “sell-out.” It makes you someone who chooses a life of freedom over enslavement to a job that doesn’t fulfill you.

It doesn’t start off easy. Trust me. But there is no time when it is not worth it.

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Plus, in this digital age, it does not take a whole lot to make your at-home, writing services business lucrative. (More tips on that coming in the next couple of posts, ok!)

So, yea….do it for the love. But don’t miss out on the money. If you’re not sure what to ask for…Google it. There are a TON of average price points for every kind of service at every sort of level. You’d be surprised how much you can get just by asking and having confidence in your own abilities.

Well, that’s what I have for you today. It’s great to be back you guys. I am so excited to start pumping out tips and tricks for you. As usual, leave a comment below. Tell me what’s new with you since I’ve been gone and where you are on your latest writing project. What kind of posts about writing or digital marketing would you like to see? I’ll do my best to get you the quality answers you need.

And as always,

I can’t wait to read what you’re writing!

 

P.S.

Don’t forget to subscribe the mailing list! I promise I don’t spam…I also promise that you’ll get the good stuff! ;P

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Creating Your Perfect Story Arc, Personal Anecdote, Writing 101

The Write Way to “Show; Don’t Tell!”

Have you ever had a writing coach/professor or perhaps an editor/publisher tell you something like this: “Good writers tell the reader what’s happening, but [great] writers show the reader?” Most of us have, and, if you’re like me the first time I heard it, you may have held back a cacophony of expletives. What does that old adage, “show; don’t tell,” mean? And what, if anything, does it have to do with the elementary school tradition of bringing your puppy or a cool seashell from the beach to school?

Let’s keep it simple:

The puppy and the seashell have something in common. They’re powerful visuals. Students can absolutely fumble their way through the “Mommy said YES to the puppy” speech or where they found the shell, but the honest truth is that by showing the class their puppy and seashell, the other students were able to fill in most of the blanks and tell themselves the rest of the story.

Keynote: To show in writing means to use strong imagery and effective scenarios so that audiences don’t require much narrative to fill in the blanks.

Example:

Telling: Elizabeth was sad, therefore uninterested in conversation with her friends.

ShowingElizabeth did not make any of her usual stops on the way to her desk this morning. She bypassed Tom’s raised hand, ignored Mary’s offer for raspberry donuts, a first, and cut straight through the advertising team without joining them for a customary Monday cup of Joe. When she sank down at the computer, Elizabeth hoped no one noticed the one tear escaping her eye.

There’s a stark contrast, right? The same information is conveyed in both examples. However, one of them is stronger and more engaging, which is always your goal. Let’s notice that showing took a much higher word count, 10 words as opposed to 59!

Be aware that “showing” often requires the use of more expressive language, so it will generally not help you cut from a story that is too long. However, it can be the magic maker when your project doesn’t have enough words.

 

CAUTION: Even though writers hear this particular literary critique often, please be careful. The unspoken truth that many other writing coaches and editors don’t want to tell you is that “showing” can make your work drag. You never want to make your reader feel like they’re wasting time. Sometimes brevity is just as, if not more engaging, than verbosity. So, there are times when I encourage you to get to the point.

Example:

Telling: Elizabeth hated Monday and all the crazy that came with it.

ShowingElizabeth knew it was the detestable first day of the work week by the way her alarm clock seemed so much louder than on other days and further away from her previously resting form. Once she’d silenced the menace, she sat up in bed and contemplated calling in sick from work so she could avoid all the cat-callers at the construction site in her neighborhood, the weird religious nut who rode her train every morning, and the annoying new assistant at her job who jabbered on until lunch.

 

This type of mellifluous prose sounds pretty, but it is not adding to the story. If these minor details are important enough for me to want to convey them to my readers, then I can show these details in action as my character moves throughout the day, or I can add them in as I write over time. Writing over time is the art of creating time progression in your piece. When done masterfully, it can allow you to slip in little details about your characters without throwing them at the reader all at once. It is a great tool for showing appropriately and telling moderately.

How do you learn how to write like that? Easy! I keep a checklist: Verbs, Adverbs, Characters/Dialogue, Setting. These are the 4 key places most writers can focus on to improve their “showing” and “telling.”

 

STRONG, SPECIFIC VERBS:

Rule 1: Choose the right verb for the right sentence. There are so many ways to express an action in English. Sometimes the easiest method to “show” versus “tell” comes just by choosing a more specific form of the verb you’ve already written.

Example:

Telling:    The dog ate his bone.

Showing: The dog devoured his bone. 

                  The dog nibbled his bone.

                  The dog gorged on his bone.

You can immediately tell the difference. Sometimes the fastest way to improve your writing is to just grab your closest thesaurus and jump in!

 

ADVERBS ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS:

Rule 2: Use adverbs as a last resort. I guarantee that every show and tell slipup is connected in some way to adverb use. I, too, like the occasional modifier for verbs (not so much for my adjectives). However, most editors frown upon adverbs because they are rendered unnecessary by Rule 1. Correct verb choices often limit the need for adverbs. It also helps to give the reader a scene or situation that illustrates the moment being described.

Example:

Telling:    Her heart beat steadily with fear. 

Showing: Her heart quaked with fear. Each time she opened her mouth, shallow breaths stuttered in and out. Her palm was sweaty, so the microphone in her hand didn’t have a chance. Therefore, it came as no surprise when the poor girl ran offstage.

 

LET YOUR CHARACTERS/DIALOGUE DO THE WORK:

Rule 3: Use your characters’ unique voices to evoke emotion from readers. Every feeling and detail does not require explicit explanations for readers to understand your meaning or gain depth. There is a lot of information that can be expressed through character actions and interactions as well as dialogue. Allow your characters to bring us into their story.

Example:

Telling:    It was obvious to Brian that Emilia and Jarvis were an item, or at least used to be, and the atmosphere of the room became subtly discomforting as they exchanged passive-aggressive pleasantries. Brian wanted to crawl out of his skin in his desire to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Showing: Brian looked between the two, wondering if this was what Alex had tried to warn him about. He cleared his throat, “So, now that we’re here–“

                  “That’s a nice jacket,” Emilia cut Brian off without taking her eyes off of Jarvis. Her lips lifted at the corners, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.

                 “Thanks. It was a gift.” Jarvis didn’t bother with the smile.

                 “Interesting,” she replied, “From Belgium, I presume?” It sounded more like a statement.

                 “No. Morroco.”

                “I thought you’d never been to Morroco.” Her tone might have been sharper than she’d intended. Her lips flipped in the other direction.

                “Not with you.” Jarvis’s smile did come to his eyes.

               “Well! Look at the time!” Brian pulled his sleeve over an empty wrist and tripped over his shoelaces trying to grab the doorknob. “It’s been a great meeting everyone. Same time next week!”

SET THE SCENE:

Rule 4: Let your setting say more than you do. Think about how you can utilize the five senses in your story and try to draw them out as much as possible. Don’t simply describe the scene; take us there with you. Reveal to the reader what you see; play the sounds you want them to hear; and give them a sweet or sour taste in their mouth from having visited.

Example:

Telling:    It was a dark and stormy night as Allison made her way to the castle.

Showing: Allison no longer felt the shivers traveling through her long cloak. Everything from the long dark hairs on her head down to her toes in the leather, riding boots was numb. The reins in her hands slipped several times from wet, and she’d long since given up hope of being able to see past her horse’s head. She could only trust the mount to have better eyesight than she in this heavy wind and unforgiving onslaught. All around she could smell mold and mildew and leather as her party pushed forward towards their journey’s end. As they continued, a vast shape in the distance broke through the dark night at last. The familiar towers with their rising parapets rose like hands of God to tear the sky. Allison sucked in cold rain and bits of ice, but it didn’t matter. She could see the end. Home.

 

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed today’s post! I also hope that you take these steps into consideration during your current or next project. If you have other rules for “showing vs telling” or alternative feelings on this topic PLEASE leave a comment and help educate our growing community here. Please link us to some of your work or your blogs!

As always:

I’m excited to read what you’re writing!

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Personal Anecdote, Writing 101

How to Write from Your Past [Happy Mother’s Day!]

Writing is a deeply personal experience that, when done correctly, pulls a lot of you as a creator. You are required to be an archaeologist of your own mind and heart. What does that mean you ask? Glad you did. An archaeologist doesn’t just dig up old dirt and bones. They are detectives whose ultimate goal is to find the truth in the past. Each piece of history they pull out of a mountain, a desert, the underground, or the ocean is another part of the larger puzzle of an ancient mystery.  Writers have to be like that. You can’t just take a cursory glance at the surface level of your feelings and tell us that you’re hurt. You have to dig to a place that you forgot existed and piece together the mystery that you couldn’t see the in past.

The better you get at it, the more difficult it can be. I can always tell the difference between writers who are playing in the sand and those who are digging deeply and asking the hard questions.

This is something…I’ll admit…has been an ongoing challenge for me. It is only with great difficulty that I’ve been able to get through my current project, “A Memoir.” It’s my first collection of poetry, but I think of it as a nonfiction collection of stories, moments, and reminiscences of people that heavily influenced me to become the person I am today written in the poetic form. I chose to write my memoir in the form of poetry because that is the most honest medium for me to write about my own life. I’ve always expressed myself best in poetry, however, that does not mean that it’s been the easiest way for me to tell my feelings.

Taking hard and honest looks at yourself, your mess, and your pain requires many moons of personal introspection and dissection. Don’t take it lightly! Childhood traumas, first heartbreaks, abuse, past failures, loss….these are just some of the events that you’re going to have to relive. Most of us don’t want to think about them, and even if we choose to write about them…our hope is to be able to do it from a safe distance without the fear of being pulled back in and eaten by the monster under the bed known as “Regret.”

Unfortunately, [great] writing requires that we conquer fears. It demands that we face who we are with honest and accepting eyes, so that we can tell our truth. Not only because the hidden, ugly truths of our hearts will greatly influence and possibly even bring relief to others who are experiencing or have experienced the same tragedies, but also because sharing those truths will bring relief to us.

There’s a burden that is lifted the first time you can express the deepest, darkest parts of yourself without fear or reservation. There’s a weight that immediately dissipates and is replaced by a breath you had no previous knowledge of holding. Truth is a beautiful, magical, and powerful thing that can wage wars and host tea parties all in the same afternoon. Let it wash over you like a spa, not like an avalanche. Be honest in who and what you are and what you’ve experienced.

And honesty…..should not just be with the hard truths…but with the fun ones as well. Tell us the joy you’ve experienced; share the blessings that have been made manifest in your life. The easy truths offer hope where the hard truths offer redemption. We need both. We need your story. The real story.

Anything else…just creates more barriers and pain.

Your truths will hurt people you love. Expect that. But it will free them too…even if they don’t see it that way at the time. You can’t allow yourself to stay locked up inside to satisfy the needs of another person. Other than unfair, it is also unwise. When you choose to remain in bondage, you are justifying the bondage of others. But when you allow yourself freedom, you are justifying the right for others to be free as well.

So…have faith, take courage, and hold to the truth. There’s only one. And it demands to be spoken.

In honor of the special occasion of Mother’s Day here in the United States, I am going to debut a piece from “A Memoir” written in honor of my mother. I pray that you hear the truths behind the words, and that it encourages you to find your own.

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