Writing Tips

Tips for World Building in Fiction

I was surprised during our weekly Writers in the Grove free Monday workshop meeting that some of my fellow members didn’t know about the concept of world building in writing.

When you write fiction, you create a world, literally. It may represent the real world or a fantasy world. It consists of scenes, places where events occur in your story.

Your fictional world is made up of places, people, cultures, traditions, habits and routines, weather, geology, current events, and politics.

I’m working on a story that takes place in 1979. I begin my world building by researching historical events in 1979, then branch into newsworthy stories and topics, and even some trivia. If my story is concentrated solely in the United States, and specifically a location, say Seattle, then most of my research would focus on what happened in Seattle in and around 1979. Here are some of the results of my web search.

Sony Walkman - OriginalIn my research, I discover that the average income that year in the United States was $17,500, and the average monthly rent was $280, a far cry from today’s prices. A gallon of gas cost 86 cents, oil was $24 a barrel, and the Toyota Corolla was one of the most popular cars on the road and the $200 Sony Walkman was in demand by most teenagers and college students. Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album won awards and played out of boomboxes everywhere, blasting “Y.M.C.A.” by The Village People off the charts. The daily news included updates on Voyager 1 as it made its closest pass by Jupiter, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the Moral Majority religious movement by Jerry Falwell, 63 American hostages taken in Iran, and Saddam Hussein becoming president of Iraq. John McEnroe, Tracy Austin, Bjorn Borg, and Martinia Navratilova became household names as tennis champions. We watched MASH, The Jeffersons, The Dukes of Hazzard, One Day at a Time, and Three’s Company on television. The big screen played Alien, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Start Trek: The Motion Picture, Norma Rae, The China Syndrome, Being There, Life of Brian, Mad Max, and the Muppet Movie.

If you are writing about 1979, this is the world your characters lived in. They listened to that music, watched that news, those movies, and said funny things like quotes from movies and television such as “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins” (Brooke Shields ad for Calvin Klein), “Reach out and touch someone” (AT&T ad), “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” (Apocalypse Now), and “You need this for your rent, boy” (Richard Pryor).

Cultural stories might filter into conversations or even the thoughts of your characters such as when then-President Jimmy Carter explained how he almost tipped when an enraged swamp rabbit swam toward his fishing boat, or comment on the first time a milk carton featured a picture of a missing child. Or the fears that swept the globe as NASA’s Skylab fell to Earth, landing in Australia, made fun of afterwards by many when the Shire of Esperance in Western Australia fined NASA $400 for littering. Or maybe how Charles Manson sent a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail Free” card in a humorous attempt to be released by the parole board. Or maybe the dinner table discussion that night might be about the work of Mother Teresa after she won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Starbucks Coffee Store downtown SeattleThe world your characters live in influences their personalities, behaviors, even habits. A worker in 1979 living and/or working in downtown Seattle would have made sure they made a swing by Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place for a cup of their soon-to-be-famous coffee.

Now think about your characters and their relationship to this place and this time. Are all of your characters from here? Or maybe one or more of them are from different places, creating conflict when their worlds come together such as a white woman from Seattle falling in love with a black man from Mississippi in 1958, or the reverse. What about a new immigrant from Europe or Africa landing on the shores of the United States or Canada in the 1800s? Or maybe you have a person from Germany finding their way in Alabama in 1943 at the height of World War II? When we travel, we bring our worlds with us no matter where we go.

Your story may begin in any time and place. The world existed for your characters before the start of your story, and they might survive your story. Reveal the world they live in, as well as the world of history and experiences they carry with them through your story, to your readers as they shake hands and get to know your characters.

Here are a list of questions to help you define the world in which your characters live.

  • Why are your characters here?
  • How did your characters get here?
  • Why here now?
  • What makes this place special to the character(s)?
  • What makes this time necessary to the character(s)?
  • What’s important in this place and time?
  • What is it about this place that welcomes your characters?
  • What is about this place that challenges your characters?
  • What is about this place that creates conflict in or between your characters?
  • How is this place different from other places, and how does it matter to your characters?
  • What’s the weather like? Now and seasonally?
  • What’s the landscape, geology, terrain?
  • Is it crowded with buildings, people, or things? Or wide open and spacious, distance between buildings, people, and things?
  • What does it sound like here?
  • What does it feel like here?
  • What does it smell like here?
  • Who comes here? Who stays away from here?
  • How many people live here?
  • What do they do?
  • How do they do it?
  • What are their rituals, habits, routines, traditions?
  • How do people live here?
  • Where do people live here?
  • What do they eat and drink? How is it grown? Where do they get their food?
  • Are there races, ethnic groups, or other signs of diversity?
  • Is there a class system? Social, justice, gender, ethnic, cultural, or economic? How do they interact and react to the world around them?
  • Who are the leaders?
  • What’s hot in the news and gossip columns here? What are people worried or talking about?
  • How do the people interact here? In the streets, cafes, plazas, town squares, virtually, meetings, social hours?
  • What are the laws? How do the laws impact the characters?
  • What happens when a law is broken?
  • Is this a stable society or one on the edge or dropped into chaos?
  • How was this place made? Immigration, governance, wars, etc.?
  • What’s the health of the place? Epidemics? Do the people have an active or inactive lifestyles?
  • How safe is the place?
  • What makes people feel safe or unsafe here? Why?
  • What are the philosophies that guide this society and community?
  • Is this community/society religious? How? Why?
  • How does this society’s infrastructure function? Are there roads? Who builds them? Garbage? Power? Housing?
  • What did it take to build this world?
  • If this world would come to an end, what would it take?

This is just a few of the questions to consider. Go through these, and the questions and suggestions offered in the resources below, then ask yourself: Could this scene happen anywhere else? How would it change? How would it change the characters? How would it change the story? See what happens.

Resources on World Building

One last bit of advice.

If you introduce something new to the world in which your characters live, ask yourself if this change their world. How does it? If it is magic or technology, does it impact only your characters or everyone in society? How? Why? Is it good, bad, or indifferent? How do they adapt to the change? is it good for everyone or just a few?

Remember, your characters live in the test tube of your imagination. Every twist or turn in the story may create a tsunami of change beyond the bubble that is your main characters. Let your readers see and feel the change.

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NaNoWriMo 2017 Guide and Preparation

NaNoWriMo logoIt’s NaNoWriMo time again, National Novel Writing Month. Get out your spreadsheet word trackers and timers and dust them off. The fun begins at midnight October 31 as you plow through toward your 50,000 words or 50 hour goal of writing every day for thirty days.

For Writers in the Grove, here are our rules for November’s NaNoWriMo writing event.

  • Write daily from November 1-30 by either committing to write:
    1. 50,000 words (1,667 a day)
    2. Or one hour a day minimum.

You may write however, whenever, whatever you wish. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • You do not have to write a “book,” whatever “book” means to you.
  • You may write short stories, world building material, character sketches, technical guides, whatever you wish, though working on fiction is the goal of NaNoWriMo, as long as you commit to write toward your end month goal, writing is writing.
  • Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. Plotters write from an outline or plot. Plotsers or Plantsers write a little of both, found to be the most common technique for NaNoWriMo.
  • This isn’t a word game, though it is played like one. It is a head game. Get your head in the writing game and keep writing. If something jumps in your path, either kick it to the curb or confront and deal, but don’t let it stop you writing.
  • You can write anywhere and at any time. If you like writing in a social space, there are a wide range of NaNoWriMo events held around the world, including in Washington and Multnomah Counties of Oregon. There are meetups, write-ins, lock-ins, and a variety of social events to help you write better, longer, and faster, all adding up to the word count or hour tracking goals. If you like writing in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning or before you go to bed in the quiet of your home or office, write then. Are you a commuter? Write while you commute using voice recognition, a tablet, or phone, but only voice while driving, and do so with care.
  • Want to participate but don’t have anything to write about? Writers in the Grove will be releasing a NaNoWriMo prompt of the day during November. We have some great NaNoWriMo prompts from previous years, and years of weekly prompts from our creative writing group meetings for you to find something to get you writing.

Want to join us? Here is how to participate, and each step, other than the writing, is optional.

  • Commit to one hour a day or 50,000 words a day. Pick one.
  • Go to NaNoWriMo. Registration is free. Create a profile, announce your project (make it up if you don’t have one), and read the instructions on how to proceed starting November 1.
  • Set up your writing environment, be it on your computer, tablet, phone, or a location in your home or office.
  • Set up your writing experience. It could be Scrivener (we have a list of great NaNoWriMo project templates and are introducing our own), Word, Pages, a text editor, voice recognition software, whatever you write in. Clean off the keyboard, your mouse, computer monitor screen, your desk, your office, your space. Remove all distractions and leave only inspiration in your writing space.
  • Prepare by creating or working on your outline, collecting prompts, bookmarking creative writing prompt sites (like Writers in the Grove), and/or collecting all the material you need for inspiration.
  • Check out our NaNoWriMo Survival Guide with tips, techniques, lists, inspiration, techniques, prompts, Scrivener project templates, and word tracker spreadsheets.
  • Explore the various Scrivener project templates for NaNoWriMo, including our new one. Select one and set it up with notes, outline, research, and whatever material you nee to keep writing.
  • NaNoWriMo Writers in the Grove Spreadsheet for Word TrackingSelect a word tracker spreadsheet from our list of NaNoWriMo word trackers and spreadsheets. We have a new Writers in the Grove word and hour tracker spreadsheet, and a list of other word trackers.
  • Set your ground rules. Most participants are successful when they set the following ground rules during November:
    • Write only. No editing. None. Zilch. Not even a spell check. N.O. E.D.I.T.I.N.G. PERIOD.
    • No research or a 2-5 minute limit on research per day. Trust yourself. It’s all in your head. Pull it out. Put it down.
    • Keep daily appointments with yourself to write. Block out the times on your calendar and keep them, like a doctor or dentist appointment. Show up even if you don’t want to.
    • Learn how to turn off your phone and internet, and keep it off during your writing appointment time. Seriously.
    • Tell friends, family, and pets that you are not to be disturbed unless guts or bones are exposed to the air. This is an excellent time to teach your family and friends how to live without you for an hour or two a day. If you have to, lock them up before you start. The pets.
  • Create a backup plan. What are you going to write if your brain locks up on what you are writing? Make a list of world building, character sketches, place sketches, experience sketches, subplots, stories within stories, background information, historical timelines, and other material to help you write the stories that aren’t in your story that help define your story. Include a backup list of prompts and completely off topic subjects to write about to help you step away mentally from your story for a breather, then dive right back in again.
  • Find loyal supporters and ass-kickers. We have some great ass-kickers in our Writers in the Grove group, but you need your own if you aren’t a member of a writing group. Tap into your friends, close and long distance, and ask them for a weekly nag or check-in to help you keep going. Find a local or genre group on the NaNoWriMo groups list and introduce yourself.
  • Learn how to add your daily word count to NaNoWriMo. You add the update of your total word count for the month so far, not your daily word count, to the NaNoWriMo word count total.

  • Learn how to verify your final word count to help you complete your goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. Achieve your goal on the NaNoWriMo site and win some great prizes and discounts.

Before you get too overwhelmed, we’ve created a NaNoWriMo Guide featuring all the tutorials, tips, techniques, and prompts we’ve published here on participating in NaNoWriMo. Enjoy.

Writers in the Grove Scrivener Project Template for NaNoWriMo

Writers in the Grove members have been participating in the annual National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, for several years. Along the way we’ve shared many word trackers and NaNoWriMo Scrivener Templates, and this year, we are introducing our own.

In the free downloadable zip file, you will find:

  • NaNoWriMo Template by Writers in the Grove: In Scrivener, go to File > New Project > Options > Import Templates and import this template into Scrivener. To use, look in the Fiction section and select it. Edit to suit your needs.

    NaNoWriMo Writers in the Grove Scrivener Project Template

  • NaNoWriMo Word and Hour Tracker by Lorelle and Writers in the Grove: An Excel spreadsheet for tracking your NaNoWriMo progress by word count or hour count. Instructions included.

    NaNoWriMo Writers in the Grove Spreadsheet for Word TrackingNaNoWriMo Writers in the Grove Spreadsheet for Hour Tracking

  • NaNoWriMo Scrivener Project by Lorelle: This is the original NaNoWriMo project for the Scrivener template if you wish to open it and explore and modify it as your own. Please use File > Save As to rename it to protect the original.

All files are designed to be reused over and over again. We may make changes, so stop by for updates once a year, or more would be appreciated.

As with all new ventures, we’d appreciate feedback and corrections and we will update the files here accordingly.

Again, you can download the free zip file with all the goodies, and have fun with NaNoWriMo.

Using Scrivener for Poetry

The Scrivener Basics Workshop by Writers in the Grove begins September 21, 2017, Thursday at 6:30Pm at the Forest Grove Senior and Community Center in Forest Grove, Oregon. There is still space available.

Scrivener isn’t just for writing and publishing fiction or non-fiction. Many successful poets use the power of Scrivener to not just create their poetry books, but also to track poetry submissions to contests, magazines, and other publishing media.

Here are some resources to learn more about how poets are using Scrivener for their own poetry books and for anthologies.

Writing Tips: Will Everyone Please Sit/Set Down!

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Which do you do?

Set, set, set: This verb is so busy placing objects in various locations, it has no time to alter its tenses.

“Set” wants something to do. There is always a “what” after “set” such as set the table, set your hair, set goals.

After setting her purse on the table, Joan read the mail.

Have you set a date with that cute guy yet?

Set down the knife and raise your hands.

Sit, sat, sat, not standing. Actually, not doing anything. There is no “what” after sit, just a rest from working. No motion, nothing is going anywhere or doing anything. There could be another verb in “-ing” form, and you may use adjectives to describe the length, location, or style of the sit, but no objects follow “sit.”

Gary did not sit long on Janice’s couch. He preferred sitting in the recliner. While sitting there, he fell asleep. Janice sat thinking about Gary. How often has he sat on her recliner sleeping? He never would set a wedding date. Obviously this relationship is going nowhere–

Writing Tips: Is There Dessert in the Desert?

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Gretchen Keefer.

Dessert is luscious, and often “sickeningly sweet” — hence the two “ss” in dessert.

The desert is too dry to support more than one “s.”

Shift the accent on desert – the place – and you have desert, the action.

The legionnaire de-SER-ted his post in the DES-ert.

Are You Using A Lot A Lot?

Recently I was chastised “a lot” for using “a lot” in my writing. While the vague measurement is now over-used and abused, I was reprimanded to not use a lot a lot. I pass this writing wisdom and grammar greatness onto you.

“A lot” is a piece of property, typically land. It is also used to represent multiple items in a collection at an auction or any collection of items or people. Lot was also the nephew of Abraham whose wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back after being specifically instructed against such treachery, which has nothing to do with casting your lot, taking a chance or making a decision based upon the random generation of a number of objects such as pebbles, coins, straw, or dice.

Today’s dictionaries include the definition of “a large number or amount; a great deal; much,” but old English professors still claim that this is an atrocious use of the words, and demand alternatives, as well as removal of the various twisted forms of “a lot” such as alot, lotsa, and lotta, which send spell checkers into a lot of fits.

So what are a lot of alternatives to “a lot?”

Impertinent Remarks by Laura Hale Brockway offered 32 alternatives to help us a lot. They include:

a good deal
a great deal
a large number
ample
bunches
enormous amount
heaps
infinite
loads
many
masses
much
plenty
reams
scads
several
slew
surplus

She also offers example sentences:

“Our style guide does not appear to be used by many people.”
“I try not to ask for any help from the IT Department.”

Thesaurus.com offers these alternatives:

enough
full
abundant
adequate
considerable
copious
countless
endless
everywhere
extravagant
galore
generous
immeasurable
jam-packed
lavish
mega
oodles
profuse
satisfying
sizable
slathers
substantial
sufficient
voluminous

I decided to test out a few more sentences of my own and play around with the various synonyms.

  • He uses the phone a good deal.
  • He uses the phone a great deal.
  • He uses the phone a large number.
  • He uses the phone ample.
  • He uses the phone bunches.
  • He uses the phone an enormous amount.
  • He uses the phone heaps.
  • He uses the phone infinite.
  • He uses the phone loads.
  • He uses the phone many.
  • He uses the phone masses.
  • He uses the phone much.
  • He uses the phone plenty.
  • He uses the phone reams.
  • He uses the phone scads.
  • He uses the phone several.
  • He uses the phone a slew.
  • He uses the phone surplus.
  • He uses the phone enough.
  • He uses the phone full.
  • He uses the phone endless.
  • He uses the phone everywhere.
  • He uses the phone extravagant.
  • He uses the phone jam-packed.
  • He uses the phone lavish.
  • He uses the phone mega.
  • He uses the phone oodles.
  • He uses the phone slathers.
  • He uses the phone substantially.
  • He uses the phone voluminously.

Some worked in this sentence structure, some clearly didn’t. Some are actually very funny.

Let’s try again and incorporate the alternative for “a lot” in a preposition.

  • I avoid asking for a good deal of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for a great deal of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for a large number of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for ample of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for bunches of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for enormous amount of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for heaps of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for infinite of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for loads of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for reams of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for scads of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for several of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for slew of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for surplus of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for copious of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for countless of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for endless of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for everywhere of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for extravagant of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for galore of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for generous of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for immeasurable of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for jam-packed of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for lavish of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for mega of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for oodles of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for slathers of help with my computer.
  • I avoid asking for voluminously of help with my computer.

Clearly, these synonyms for “a lot” don’t slip right into place as replacements. They take a lot of fuss to make sense out of I avoid asking for jam-packed of help with my computer.. It’s a lot to ask to for every replacement to replace well.

However you search and replace your lots, you shouldn’t have a lot of excuses for using a lot a lot.

How to Write a Tutorial

We are starting a new project featuring Writers in the Grove members only. Our members will be publishing tutorials and writing and publishing on this site to help educate themselves and others. We have some of the most amazingly talented writers, and we are eager to share their wisdom and experiences with you. Stay tuned for some great writing tips, tricks, techniques, and advice. And consider signing up for email notifications from this site when we publish something new so you can keep up with all our goodies.

A tutorial is an educational how-to, informative tip, studied technique, or wise advise. A tutorial on a website is a concise, step-by-step recipe for how to do something.

A tutorial published on the web shouldn’t be an entire guide book on how to do something. It is a taste, a simple instructional process, helping you learn one new thing at a time.

Writing a tutorial is different from writing an essay, poem, or prose in general. It is different from writing most editorial articles. A successful tutorial is written as if the author is sitting down next to the person, guiding them through the process in a simple and gentle fashion.

There is form and structure to writing a tutorial, especially for the web, though its style arose from magazine publishing.

The Tutorial Form and Structure

A tutorial for this website, and websites and magazines in general, is structured at its most simple form as:

  1. Opening paragraphs: Example of someone using this technique, with a little bit of the why. Keep this to no longer than 2-3 paragraphs, one is better.
  2. Explain the why: If it is not clear in the opening, next explain why someone should use this tip, technique, or advice. Keep it to one to two paragraphs.
  3. Ingredients/Tools/Supplies/What you need to know: The next section lists the various things you need to have or know to complete the task. For writers, this could be using a software program, the web, a notebook and pen, specific books, or other items.
  4. Step-by-Step Instructions: Break the process down to individual steps, taking the reader through the process one thing at a time. Use numbered and unnumbered lists for improved readability and clarity. You may also use heading styles to break the steps up as I have done in this article.
  5. Taking it one step further: This section takes the process just one step further, offering an alternative method, a way to expand upon the lesson learned, just a tiny step further in the process to inspire and motivate.
  6. Resources: If the article needs it, add more resources, websites, books, classes, videos, other materials to help the reader learn more about the topic.
  7. Summary (optional): Some writers like to summarize what they just wrote. In the web and in many magazines, the article usually stands alone without a summary, but if you need to, this is where it goes.

What You Need to Know About Writing Web Tutorials

A well-written tutorial begins with the paragraph and not a subtitle or heading. Headings (subtitles) are used throughout the article after the opening paragraphs to break the content up into sections and guide the reader through the information.

Links are used, if appropriate, in a properly and well-formed HTML link. Ensure all links offer specific and related content to support the tutorial’s intentions.

Images are excellent additions. Use them to support specific visual examples. Not every tutorial needs images, but when they do, they are helpful. For this site, size them at 800 pixels (about 4 inches) maximum when you upload them or include them in your submission, and allow them to be resized and aligned right, left, or center appropriately as needed in the article. And please keep them at a small file size, below 100K, as JPG or PNG files.

Consider your audience. What is the least they need to know to do this themselves? Write that.

Keep it simple. Keep it clear.

Have fun. Make this process enjoyable and readers will enjoy the process of learning from you.

For More Information

Four Mantras to Help Each Other Write

In this excerpt from an interview in 2012 by Oprah Winfrey on her show SuperSoul Sunday, she talks to Thich Nhat Hanh, famous monk and author of over 100 books on spiritualism, meditation, and mindfulness. He spoke about the concept of deep listening or compassionate listening.

Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of the other person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose to help him or her to empty his heart. And if you remember that you are helping him or her to suffer less, even if he says things full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable to continue to listen with compassion, because you know listening that like that, with compassion, you give him or her a chance to suffer less.

If you want to help him or her to correct his perception, and then you wait for another time, but for the time being, you just listen with compassion and help him or her to suffer less. And just one hour like that can bring transformation and healing.

His words caught my heart. I suffer from the chronic human need to fix things. Fix problems, fix people, fix writing. I’m not alone. I know you feel the same.

It is hard to sit still and just be with someone, listen to them, hear their pain, and not fix it.

Recently, one of the writers in our group finally heard what we’d been saying for a while regarding their writing, and the dam broke. The writing became clearer, more emotional, and passionate. I realized that the writer wasn’t ready to hear our words until the time was right, and now was the moment.

I’m the same way. I can hear the same words over and over again, sometimes for many years, but I don’t hear them, take them into my heart, and act upon them until I’m good and ready to listen.

Part of the magic of our group is that we have some enlightened beings setting that example for all of us. We’ve learned to trust that the person will figure it out on their own, in their own time, and all we can do is listen, be there, and guide them, but they have to figure it out for themselves. They can take our advice or toss it, it is their work, their creativity, their process.

The Four Mantras to Healing Relationships (and Critiquing Writing)

In the next part of the interview, Thich Nhat Hanh cited his four mantras for relationships, and I felt like he was talking to our writing group.

We have two guides we follow strictly in our group. First, everything we write is fiction, which creates a safe environment for people to share and not gossip about what we write. Second, we create a supportive environment for intense support and gentle criticism.

With few words, he defined the latter in a beautiful way.

The first mantra is: ‘Darling, I’m here for you.’ When you love someone, the best thing you can offer him or her is your presence. How can you love if you are not there.

…The second mantra is: ‘Darling, I know you are there, and I am so happy because you are truly there.’ You recognize the presence of your beloved one as something very precious, and you use your mindfulness to recognize that…she will bloom like a flower. To be loved is to be recognized as existing.

…The third mantra is what you practice when your beloved one suffers: ‘Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.’ Before you do something to help her, to help him, your presence already can bring some relief.

…The fourth mantra is a little bit more difficult, and that is when you suffer, and you believe your suffering has been caused by your beloved one. So, you suffer so deeply. You prefer to go to your room and close the door and suffer alone. You get hurt, and you want to punish him or her for having made you suffer. The mantra is to overcome that.

The mantra is: ‘Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.’ You go to him, you go to her, and practice that.

And if you bring yourself to say that mantra, you suffer less right away.

When we offer criticism, we need to keep mindfulness at the forefront of your intentions. Writing is a deeply personal experience for many people. Sometimes what they write is a little of their spirit leaking onto the page, other times their hearts are fully exposed, vulnerable.

During our writing workshops, you are invited to read the results of our writing prompts out loud to the group, and bring short samples of our work to share, for some gentle criticism and advice. By listening with the spirit of deep and compassionate listening, being there in the moment for each other, and being glad to be in their presence, we go a long way to help each other get past our fears, anxieties, and road blocks to our creative writing spirits.

How do the last two mantras impact us as a group and our writing?

I could tell you that writing can be painful, to mind, body, and spirit. But I don’t have to. You know that. You’ve been there.

The inner demons show up and taunt us, old tapes running through our mind, picking at the scars, seeking blood. “Not good enough.” “You can’t do it.” “What made you think you had anything worthwhile to say.” We all face these demons, we all suffer, so let’s acknowledge the suffering. We know we suffer. That’s why we are here for you.

When we are suffering with our writing, letting the demons win, we need to practice, too. We need to come out of our rooms and stand before each other, our wonderful, supportive writing friends, and admit that we are suffering. Admit that we need to practice. And ask for help. That is what why we are here.

That is the true essence of this group.

And the sooner you do that, the less you will suffer.

For more information and to purchase his books, see the Amazon.com Author page for Thich Nhat Hanh.

The following is the excerpt regarding the mantras.

Get Ready Now: NaNoWriMo is Six Months Away

NaNoWriMo is in November, barely six months away. For some, that’s a long time. For others, it comes too soon. Either way, it’s time to start thinking about how you will spend your November churning out 50,000 words, or an hour a day, of writing.

We’ve featured many articles and tips for NaNoWriMo on this site over the past few years, so your first task should be to dive into that great content to warm up your creative juices.

Do you have a topic to write about, a plot for a novel, your memoir, a technical how-to book? Maybe you want to finish that book you’ve barely started, or rewrite one that went no where the first time. It is never too early to start planning what you will be writing.

There are three times of writers in NaNoWriMo. There are the plotters, those who plot and outline everything out before the event begins. The pantsers write by the seat of their pants, trusting their muse to find the words daily. The plotsters or plantsers are the ones who did a little of both, plot out a rough outline, have a sense of where they are going, then let the muse take them where their fingers and imagination goes.

We also recommend you take time to get Scrivener, the writing studio software, to hold your outline, notes, research, and to write in and keep track of your writing during the month-long event. New to Scrivener? Check out our tips on using Scrivener, especially during NaNoWriMo, and watch this site for an announcement soon on a 4-week workshop on Scrivener Basics at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center in Forest Grove, Oregon, in September, just in time for NaNoWriMo.

Here are some more tips to help you get ready for NaNoWriMo, and for writing any time.

  • Make an appointment with yourself – and keep it. Protect your writing time. Your muse works best when you show up at the same time every day, or train it to work for spontaneous 10 or 15 minute segments through the day. Either way, set writing time on your schedule and don’t miss an appointment.
  • Write what you know. It is true that it is best to write about what you know, but lean into this even more. Use characters you know, inside and out, from your own life, compilations of a variety of people, or a specific person from your childhood or present. Put your characters in a place familiar to you, your childhood community, or where you lived for many years and know all the back streets. Give your characters jobs you’ve held. Play with the rest, but use what you know. There is something special about reading a book where you just know the author loves the characters and places where the events take place.
  • Trust yourself. Trust yourself to write a great story. Trust yourself to know what to write. Trust yourself to let your characters lead you. Trust that you know how to do this, because you do. You wouldn’t be doing this unless you knew you could. Trust yourself to do it.
  • The first draft of everything is shit. Hemingway is supposed to have said that often, and it is true. First drafts don’t sell. They aren’t published. The magic comes in the second, third, possibly even the twentieth draft. Just write. Get it all down and fix it later.
  • Writing is about storytelling. Never forget, you are telling a story. You are taking the reader on an adventure, a journey, teaching them about how your characters see the world around them, and how they behave within it. The best stories are written not with the best grammar, but the best storytelling techniques.
  • Journal and note your ideas now. As you make your way toward November, jot down the ideas that come to you in the oddest of moments. You never know where one might lead, or if you may need it later when the well starts to run dry. Some people take a while to let their imagination simmer, so be ready to catch whatever floats to the top and preserve it.
  • Show don’t tell. Pay attention to everything around you over the next few months. See a beautiful sunrise, or the sun bursting forth through storm clouds? Write down what it looked like, but focus on how you felt in the moment. Look at people around you. How are they walking? Talking? Sitting? Moving in and out of the crowd. Takes notes on what you see and how they moved emotionally, with determination, courage, faith, pain, misery, depression, joy…show us how they moved. The next few months have two seasons, possibly three, in them, and you have an opportunity to view people in cold, wet, and rain, and bright sunshine, possibly even extreme heat conditions. How are their bodies responding to the environment?
  • Listen. Over the next few months, listen deeply to the voices all around you. At the store, at work, at meetings, social events, listen and take notes. How do they speak? What are they saying? Would your characters say that? How would they say the same things? The best characters are like real people, so pay attention to all the ways real people talk, to themselves and to each other, and take notes.
  • Put conflict in every sentence, paragraph, page. There are seven types of conflict in storytelling and writing. There is man vs. self, man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, etc. These struggles, elements of conflict, are the core in any good story. We need heroes. We need anti-heroes. We need villains. We need to have our characters tortured by their circumstances. Think about all the ways you could bring your characters to their knees and test their spirits, and put that in your story plans.
  • Pay attention to the news. Right now, the United States, and the world, are in teetering on the edge. The edge shifts from day-to-day, or could be all of everything, global warming, politics, pollution, economy, fake news, malware attacks, prejudice, even war. How does it feel? How do others feel? How are they responding? Are they hoarding food or money, just in case? Protesting? Apathetic? Terrified? An ostrich, head in the sand, disconnected from the world around them? Take note of all these attitudes, behaviors, and responses to the world around you and them. It’s all good fodder for the characters in your book.
  • Look for stories, and stories within stories. A well-written book doesn’t have one plot. It often has several plots, sub-plots, stories within stories with the same or different characters. Maeve Binchy specialized in writing about characters, each with their own plot lines, weaving them in and out, until they merged together at the end, surprising the reader. Look at all the stories around you, little stories like the man who forgot his wallet and realized it at the grocery checkout, and breaks down in tears not because he forgot his money but because he wife died a week ago and this is the first time in 30 years he’s shopped for himself. Or big stories of a cheerleader a month from graduation at the top of her class, who finds out she has cancer, two weeks after her mother died of cancer, and her father dies of a heart attack two days later, and she has to go on. Every moment is a moment for story, and within every story is another story, maybe three or four.

Writers in the Grove features more writing tips and advice on writing for all your writing challenges as well as NaNoWriMo. Subscribe to our site by email or add us to your feed reader to keep us close as you tackle your next writing project.

If you are in the Portland, Oregon, area, please join us at our Monday morning workshops from 9-11:30 AM at the Forest Grove Community and Senior Center, and on the second Saturday of the month at the Forest Grove Library.