Category Archives: Blogroll

Question of the Month. Does doubt keep you from writing?

My friend and I have been writing for more than ten years. In that time I have published two books, many stories and several articles. My friend has published nothing. Her problem, I think, is that she is afraid of success.

Just last week we had a conversation about a short story she wants to submit. She has been working on this story for several months now. She has even taken this story to her critique partners for feedback. Now that the time is nearing for her to submit, she is second-guessing her story. “Did I put in too much?” she asked me. “Is it going to be good enough?” she worried.

“Don’t talk yourself out of submitting,” I warned. “Send it out and get on with your novel.”

The self-doubt my friend is experiencing is normal. Many writers wade through doubts every day. Faced with a blank page, they often freeze. They ask themselves, “What do I have to say that’s important? What do I have to say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?”

Carleen Brice, author of the novel Orange Mint and Honey, (which inspired The Lifetime Movie Sins of the Mother), recently said that as a writer she has doubts every day. “I’m working on a rewrite of my third novel, which sometimes fills me with so much anxiety I want to crawl not just under the covers, but under the bed,” she writes in a guest blog.

I know the feeling. I, too,  battle self-doubt. Instead of hiding under the bed, I turn on spider solitaire and eat up all my writing time matching suits in digital decks of cards. Why do I do this?

Audrey Marlene, in her article, “Self-Doubt – An Illogical Perspective”, says doubt can be caused by many things, including

• Feelings of inferiority
• Low self-esteem
• Feeling a lack of control over your life
• Believing you are not good enough or smart enough
• Anticipating failure even before you begin
• Rejection
• Believing that your emotional security depends on someone or something

It all boils down to fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of losing control. Fear prompts me to focus on what I cannot do rather than what I can do, or on what I desire. Marlene claims the best way to let go of self-doubt is to build self-confidence.

I want to be a writer, and I know that I have to push self-doubt away if I want to be successful. To help banish my self-doubt, I continue to hone my craft, and, if I’m feeling particularly negative, I’ll call a writing buddy to help get back on track. I submit. If my work is rejected, I submit again.

I’ve been writing long enough to know that every word I write isn’t golden. I’ve come to accept, even anticipate, rejection because I know that writing is subjective. I’ve learned that if someone says it isn’t good enough, I can rework the story or throw it in the garbage, where it might possibly belong.

William Shakespeare once wrote, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

Conquering fear isn’t easy, but it gets better with practice and positive self-talk. I will remind my friend of this the next time she claims her story isn’t good enough.

Are your doubts traitors? How do you push through them to achieve your writing goals?

-Bonnie Dodge

Short story contest, deadline August 12, 2011

What are you doing to sharpen your writing skills? Here is a challenge.
Boise State Public Radio along with the Idaho Department of Tourism and The Story Initiative at Boise State University are sponsoring a writing contest open to anyone with an Idaho story to tell. Here’s the kicker. Stories must be no longer than 120 words and must mention at least one Idaho location.

A short story in 120 words? Is that possible?

Yes. I’ll show you how.

I recently attended a workshop where we were required to write a story spurred by a picture from a magazine. In my picture, two boys stood beside a barn, their cowboy hats tipped over their faces. All you could see was their chins. We had fifteen minutes to write a story. When we were finished, we were instructed to count the words in our story and cut the scene by 25%. We were then instructed to reduce the story to one sentence.

What? Impossible? No, it wasn’t. It did take some creative thinking though, and what I discovered was that paring the story made the heat rise. Every word had to pack a punch.

To illustrate, here is what I wrote:

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head, always tipped so I could never see his eyes. I’ve know Jonathan since he was a toddler and though he has changed dramatically through the years there has always been one thing constant, the way each straw hat he dons dips slightly so I cannot see his eyes, or whether or not he is listening to me as I speak, or if his eyebrow teaks and twitches when I talk about his sister Cara.

In his younger years, Jonathan’s hats changed rapidly, almost faster than the size of his T-shirts and Levis. His body grew fast, but his head seemed to grow faster, sprouting as if it were trying to grow away from his body. The first hat I remember was a straw cowboy hat his grandmother had given him on his first birthday. It was woven from straw and had a red string that wrapped around his chin.

25% cut

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head slightly. I cannot see his eyes or if his eyebrow twitches when I talk about Cara.

Jonathan’s hats changed rapidly, almost faster than the size of his T-shirts and Levis. His body grew fast, but his head grew faster, sprouting as if it were trying to grow away from his body. The first hat I remember was a straw cowboy hat his grandmother had given him on his first birthday.

One sentence

Jonathan’s hat teetered on his head like a shadow every time I asked about Cara.

Try it. In 120 words or less, write a story about Idaho. Pick any subject, say the Malad Gorge, and in a stream of consciousness way, write everything that comes to mind about the gorge. Don’t ponder, just free write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, begin revising, cutting useless and redundant words like small, very, ly adjectives, etc. Revise again and again until you have 120 words. When you compare the two versions of your story, I bet you will discover that your second version is clearer, tighter, and more powerful.

What are you waiting for? Get busy. The deadline is August 12, 2011.

Here is more information about the contest:

Call for submissions: BOISE STATE PUBLIC RADIO LAUNCHES
‘ONE MINUTE IDAHO’ STORY WRITING CONTEST

Boise State Public Radio (BSPR), along with the Idaho Department of Tourism and The Story Initiative at Boise State University, present “One Minute Idaho,” a writing contest open to anyone with an Idaho story to tell. Stories must be no longer than 120 words and must mention at least one Idaho location. Entries may be mailed or emailed by midnight, Aug. 12. Contestants may send multiple entries.

The “One Minute Idaho” writing contest is part of BSPR’s ongoing effort to engage with the community, and the contest plays a significant role in demonstrating the important contributions individual experiences make to the community and state.

The top three winning stories will be recorded, posted on the BSPR website for download and aired on BSPR stations. Winners also will receive tickets to see Ira Glass, host and executive producer of National Public Radio’s This American Life, at the Morrison Center on Nov. 5, to a reception prior to the main event and an overnight stay at an Idaho bed and breakfast. Glass will select one of three winning stories to read aloud from the stage of the Morrison Center.
For official contest rules and to submit a story, visit http://www.iraglassinboise.com.
– Bonnie Dodge

Red, Michael Corleone, Hannibal Lector — Unforgettable characters all

Charles Foster Kane, Hannibal Lector, Atticus Finch, Red, Ellen Ripley.
You’re probably thinking what do these people have in common. The answer is that they are all unforgettable characters.
They are in movies I can’t pass up when I’m flipping around the channels. They make me stop what I’m doing and watch them. Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, Silence of the Lamb, Alien, Citizen Kane, To Kill a Mockingbird. The list goes on.
As writers, we have to ask, what makes them unforgettable? What makes them universal? Why do we remember what they say and do? What are their goals, both interior and exterior? Why do we love their strengths and weaknesses? What are their character arcs?
I am fascinated by Michael Corleone’s slide into corruption even as he rises to power. I love how Red in Shawshank Redemption is so strong, but not enough to hope. Ripley’s character in Alien is tough, vulnerable and a survivor rolled into one.
In The Searchers, Ethan Edwards displays an almost psychopathic hatred of Indians, but puts that aside to save his niece. In the end, he remains an outsider.
While brillantly brought to life by wonderful actors, these characters still were born on the page by a writer who forged them out of words. They wrote their dialogue, gave them motivations, strengths and weakness, complexity.
Charles Foster Kane is among the most complex. Enjoying the power of money, but he does not totally understand what money can’t buy. He wants to be loved, but doesn’t know how to give it and may not even love himself.
William ‘Bill the Butcher’ Cutting in Gangs of New York is indeed a butcher of people, but when he blesses the young man who eventually tries to kill him, we feel his vulnerability, fleeting as it is.
My goal as a writer is to create unforgettable characters. One readers will relate to. One they will remember and tell their friends about. A character they wish they knew or one they wouldn’t want to be locked in a room with. One they might quote.
I hope I can accomplish that, and as Andy told Red, “Hope is a good thing.”

For more unforgettable movie characters go to.
http://www.filmsite.org/100characters.html

-Patricia Santos Marcantonio

Question of the month

How can I stay motivated to write when the rejection slips keep coming?

ANSWER — CELEBRATE!

You might feel that you have nothing to celebrate, but you do!

We, The Other Bunch, attended an Idaho Writer’s Guild workshop on agents over this last weekend — what they can do for a writer and why they are important. We gathered a good deal of useful knowledge and tips from the panel of agents but, I think the most important nugget of advice came from Amy Rennert, of the Amy Rennert Agency of San Francisco. Her advice was to “Celebrate finishing your book; celebrate finishing a chapter; celebrate finishing a sentence, celebrate writing. It is hard but it is fun.”
Let’s face it we, writers, love to write. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t because the rewards are few and very rare. So, as Ms. Rennert advises, celebrate the joy of writing. Celebrate that we can make others see through our eyes, make them feel any emotion we choose. The reader will cry or laugh according to the words we choose to put on a page.
That is power worth celebrating. So let’s hear it for writing! Yahoo!

Question of the Month: Why do you write?

In a recent interview with Amanda Turner, host and producer of The Writers’ Block on Boise Community Public Radio based in Boise, Idaho, I was asked what advice I would give aspiring writers. “Know why you want to write,” I said. Running out of time, I added a few words about best-selling suspense writer Ridley Pearson, and the interview was over.

If I had had more time, I would have elaborated on that answer. I believe every writer should know why he or she wants to write, and here’s why. There are many reasons to be a writer. Not all of them have to do with becoming a published bestselling author. The way you measure success has a lot to do with your goals. For instance, maybe you write because:

  • you are a wordsmith, and like to play with words
  • you like to express yourself in writing
  • you like to tell stories
  • you have something to say
  • you want to make money
  • you want to see your name in print
  • you want to be famous
  • you want to be published

At base level, writing is writing. You sit down and put your thoughts on paper. You rearrange the nouns and verbs until the sentences make sense. For some writers this is enough; their success is seeing their words in written form. For others, success might be writing a story that has been passed down through generations. Others may not consider themselves successful unless they have published one book, two books, or earned a hefty advance.

I use Ridley Pearson to demonstrate what a successful writer looks like not because he’s a bestselling author, but because he knew what he wanted to accomplish as a writer, and did it. Some years ago, I attended one of his workshops at a writer’s conference before he was multipublished, and this is what he told us. He wanted to be a bestselling author before he turned forty. So he studied the industry and took steps to make that happen. He learned the craft of writing, did extensive crime research, targeted a specific market, networked, and queried. If you ask him, he will tell you he didn’t become famous over night. But he had a goal, and took the needed steps to make it happen.

Which leads me back to my advice for writers. Know why you want to write. It could be as simple as writing in your journal every day. It could be as complicated as writing a thousand page epic and getting it published. It could be to simply play with words. We all write for different reasons. Knowing why will help you get to where you are going.

-Bonnie Dodge

Why I love my critique partners

For more than 10 years, I have been in the same critique group and I love my critique partners.
Here are some of the reasons why.
They see what I do not. They help me talk out my writing problems. They are tough, but supportive. They have strengths where I have weaknesses. They are great listeners.
We need people who will read our writing to spot the gaps in plot that we have missed, when our characters are acting uncharacteristic, and just to read our writing from a different view. These are all the things we overlook because we are so close to our project. My critique partners have prevented me from making bonehead mistakes that would make me appear to be a total dope to an editor.
Sometimes when a plot or writing problem is rolling around in my head, they will also act as a listening board to help me talk through the problem and come up with a solution.
My critique partners can be tough in their reviews, but also point out the good stuff that I have written. I belonged to one critique group that was totally negative and I wanted to cut my throat at the end of each session. Not a good thing. As writers, we beat ourselves up enough. We need the right amount of negative and positive, so finding the right partners is essential.
I am strong on plotting. My critique partners are great at motivation and structure. They are more literary where I am not. They help me improve the weaknesses in my work.
I credit them with helping me make one of my books the best it could be. That one was published by FSG in New York. I paid for their dinner (and dessert), but owe them so much more.
They are there to listen to me whine and reassure that yes, I am a writer.
I have learned so much from them and I hope they can say the same for me. If I never publish another book, I am still so grateful to them for helping me become a better writer.
God bless my critique partners.
Patricia Santos Marcantonio

New Anthology in the Works

If you heard Bonnie’s interview on The Writers’ Block, you know that The Other Bunch is getting ready to launch a new book. This book is called Hauntings from the Snake River Plain, and will include essays, poems, fiction and nonfictional Idaho ghost stories. Beginning June 1, 2011, you will be able to submit your Idaho ghost stories for possible inclusion in this anthology. Check back often as we work out the details.