Writing Tips

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.

Writing Tips for Organizing and Planning Your Writing

There are two aspects to the concept of organization for writers. There is the organization of your writing environment, be it your working space or virtual space you write in such as the type of computer, software, even the way your writing is backed up. Then there is the organization of the actual writing, keeping track of characters, plots, story lines, names, places, etc., and structuring the end result into something readable as well as publishable.

Discussing this with a few Writers in the Grove members, we realized that while the two concepts were separate, they were actually inseparable. As one pointed out, the spark of an idea can happen anywhere and you must have a system in place to jot it down and ensure it isn’t lost between the grocery store moment of inspiration and the moment you can finally lean into your computer and start writing. Throughout the writing process of a project, the project is with you, wherever you are, whenever your imagination catches fire. A well-structured habit system combined with well-maintained tools and access points for preserving those thoughts help you through the entire process, right through to the point of publishing.

So we decided to offer this short collection of writing tips by others for organizing and planning your writing to embrace both aspects, helping you be organized within your writing environment, physical and virtual, and in the writing process.

Writing Organization Tools and Environments

One tool that our group embraced that changed more than a few writing lives is Scrivener by Literature and Latte. Available for both Windows and Mac, Scrivener is what you use to write your story before you move it to publishing programs and tools, though Scrivener will publish directly to various ebook and print formats. Scrivener is your idea holder, notebook, character development tool, and story line planner. It helps you write your book or whatever is on your writing list. We highly recommend it and have an ongoing series to help you learn Scrivener better.

Some helpful articles on using Scrivener to organize your writing include:

How To Organize Your Non-fiction Book – The Future of Ink: This article offers six core tools and methods for organizing your book: piles, folders, cards, Evernote, and binders. The author also mentions Scrivener as it is highly capable of embracing piles, folders, cards, etc. The article offers tips for organizing your writing in general, time and space for writing, and more tips to help you keep on track of the writing. These apply to fiction as well as non-fiction. (more…)

Tips for Writing Crime and Mystery Fiction

My father fell in love with the Cat Who books by Lillian Jackson Braun with little incentive. A long time cat lover, mystery novels involving a cat that seemed to solve the crimes, as well as about cat lovers (for the most part), was right up his reading alley. Like many, he gobbled them up as soon as each one was released.

Writing mysteries and crimes is a long-held tradition in storytelling and publishing. We have some members of Writers in the Grove who are steadfast fans of the genre.

Here are some tips on writing crime and mystery fiction to tickle your fancy and keep you up at night – reading.

5 Killer Tips For Writing Deadly Crime Fiction – Molly Greene: Writer: Molly Greene is the author of the popular Gen Delacourt Mysteries series. In this great summary of tips, she offers legendary advice:

Open with a bang or a body.

Think James Bond. Or Agatha Christie. James Patterson. Or Garry Rodgers. AK-47s. Or dismembered hookers. Biological bombs. Or a corpse hanging from a meat-hook. A sharp hook… which is the oldest storytelling device and still the best.

You’ve got about ten seconds to hook your reader and keep their face in the page. So start off fast and slowly add backstory. Build it up, then end with a bang. Maybe another body, too.

Among the many tips offered by the following articles is advice that applies to all forms of writing: don’t be boring, edit well, don’t write likeable characters, have plenty of conflict, have a very compelling and damaged detective/investigator, and know exactly what your story is about while you are teasing the reader along the journey.

Lessons from a First Time Writer in NaNoWriMo

The following article is by Writers in the Grove member, Carolyn Bradley.

What have I learned about writing from participating in my first NaNoWriMo?

It is more fun to have written than it is to write. Writing is hard. Writing takes discipline.

I have learned that I don’t have any.

And so I am grateful to Writers in the Grove and NaNoWriMo for shoving me off the stump I’ve been roosting on for years and getting my butt moving in the right direction. It helps to be held accountable – someone is expecting some words to be written.

I have learned that I am a planner not a pantser. I probably already knew this but my husband confirmed it. So I know it will be hard to write until the dishwasher is loaded and the bed is made and I’ve learned that an outline is a huge help to me.

I have learned that I am not a very good writer. This surprised me. I am in awe of the wordsmiths in this writers group who write with such amazing clarity – sometimes in fifteen minutes or less. That is not me. But some of them have been writing for a long time, thousands of words, and I am just a beginner. So I have learned that I will have to write many more words in order to improve my craft.

I have learned that I can turn off my editor for long periods of time. This is probably the most important takeaway from this experience for me, since this is what has kept me from writing for so long. For that, I am the most grateful.

I have learned that I have a lot to learn. And more importantly, I know now what I do not know and how to learn it.

And one final thing – please excuse the absence of contractions. It’s a NaNoWriMo thing. If you’ve done NaNoWriMo, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Writer’s Toolbox: Editor Types and Skills

In “10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You—But Should by Brian Klems, he advises:

You should avoid the temptation to hire someone to edit your first draft.

I know you’re really excited that you finally finished that book! I’m happy for you…you should be happy for you. Celebrate it! But don’t send it to an editor yet. Put it away for three weeks and then reread, making notes on its strengths and weaknesses, asking yourself what’s missing, and flagging places where you find yourself skimming. Then rewrite the manuscript at least once—twice is better. Don’t bring in a professional until you have made the book the best you possibly can on your own. At this stage, you are still best equipped to take your book to the next level. Only when you’ve taken it as far as you can on your own will you get the most for your money in hiring a freelance editor.

Once you have reworked your draft until there is no more room for you in it, then it is time to take it to a professional.

Writers in the Grove

Writers in the Grove workshops offer time for reading and review of written work. Items are to be no longer than 4 minutes read out loud, and at least 18 photocopies to share with the members to edit. Edits are limited to encouragement and suggestions at the development stage, not serious editing markup. The process usually takes about 5-10 minutes, and the writer receives their copies back with notes and some verbal advice. These are done on a first-come, first-serve basis based upon the limited amount of time available.

Most published writers go through various editors and editing steps before publishing. Each step in the process is critical to the success of the published work, though not all work goes through each of these editor types.

The job descriptions of these editors are:

  • Editor: The editor has many roles, and may work with an author to improve their manuscript and develop a style guide to ensure consistency throughout the manuscript. This process may involve rewriting and editing copy to improve readability through language, spelling, punctuation, and syntax, though these tasks are typically taken by other editor types. Some editors oversee the entire publication process and may work with marketing and the author to promote the book, but this is typically the responsibility of the publisher, which could be the author as self-publisher.
  • Copy Editor: Copy editors review copy for errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, check for readability and style. They also fact-check and verify story details, date, facts, and statistics. It is highly recommended that everything you prepare for publishing go through through copy edits.
  • Development/Developmental Editor: The development or developmental editor examines the plots and arcs in the story, ensuring consistency in presentation, form, voice, and style. Their job is not to rewrite the story but make the story consistent with all the core elements a good story demands. Their expertise is on development, ensuring the story is stuffed with all the conflict, excitement, and drama necessary to make it compelling. Another type of development editor is called a substantive editor. This person helps the writer by focusing on story elements, plot, characterization, dialogue, point of view, settings, scene orders, word choices, sentence structure and syntax, and strengthening the manuscript writing.
  • Line Editor: The line editor is the final editor to tackle the manuscript before publishing, you hope, after its been through all the other editors. Their job is to not discuss plot and arc, character building or dialogue as that is the responsibility of the development editor. Their job is to go through every sentence, check every word, and make sure that the manuscript is ready for publishing by checking spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency, word usage, possibly some fact checking. While the copy editor does these things, too, it is the line editor that ensures each word works, and nothing will embarrass you after publishing.

Editors use a style guide or style sheet prepared by the author, sometimes in collaboration with an editor, on how the voice of the book is to be written and presented to maintain consistency.

The following is a breakdown of the specific tasks associated with each editor role. A professional editor may cover all these things, so I’ve not included them in this list. A reminder, these tend to be fluid descriptions as some editors specialize in one or more of these skills and roles.

Copy Editing

  1. Spelling and punctuation choices are consistent with the genre and style appropriate to the book’s setting and characters.
  2. Variant spellings, like anaesthesia or anesthesia, or colorful or colourful, or accent spellings for dialog/dialogue and writing style, are consistent throughout and in line with the book’s style guide, and included in the style guide for the manuscript.
  3. The manuscript is fact-checked, if applicable, to ensure that all historical, current events, names of people and places, weather, politics, and other references to real things are correct, or as right or close to the truth as possible. All quotes and references must also be verified.
  4. Chapter headings, subheads, parts, sections, quotes (blockquotes or pull-quotes), and other manuscript formatting areas are consistently styled throughout the document.
  5. All foreign words feature the correct accent marks, and are italicized if appropriate.

Development/Developmental Editing

  1. Plot and Arc
    • Does the story have a clear beginning, middle, and end?
    • Does the story start in the right place? Should it start earlier or later?
    • Does the plot have an arc? Is it clear? Are the significant turning points of the plot dramatized sufficiently to support the conflicts and resolution of the plot?
    • Does the manuscript offer consistent themes and motifs? Clearly defined? Define them.
    • Does the story follow a definable pattern of cause and effect, action and reaction?
    • Does every sentence have conflict? Does every paragraph have conflict? Does every page have conflict? Does ever scene have conflict? Does every chapter have conflict? Make sure they do.
    • How is foreshadowing used? Is each scene set up well and can the reader keep slightly ahead of the character, or slightly back so they are as surprised as the character?
  2. Characters
    • Does the protagonist have a clear arc, called a protagonist arc?
    • Does the protagonist face challenges and conflicts consist with character development and the plot arc?
    • Is all the background/exposition necessary to support the character and the plot included? Is there any backstory that can be cut or edited down?
    • Does the protagonist both win and lose something by the end of the story? Which is the greater win or loss? Should their be balance?
    • Are the other characters in the story deserving of their place? Do they all need names? Could they be consolidated? Minimized? Emphasized? Expanded?

Line Editing

  1. Language and Style
    • Check for redundancies and repetition. Eliminate repeated words or phrases that do not serve as an artistic effect. Look for clever phrases used repeatedly and cut them.
    • For fiction, cut all author intrusions in to the story, author commentary, editorializing, and pontificating. Let the characters tell the story.
    • Are the verbs and adjective details specific? Do they match the intention and intensity of each sentence and scene?
    • Cut out unnecessary words or sentences or filler dialogue? Ensure each one matters to the story.
    • Do paragraphs end on strong sentences, encouraging the reader to read the next paragraph and turn the page?
    • Are sentence and paragraph lengths varied throughout the manuscript?
    • Do the characters sound different from one other in thought and dialogue?
    • Is the narrator’s voice and diction consistent throughout the manuscript?
  2. Scenes
    • Is the setting clear and reflected in the details of the story, be it a place, time, culture, or age?
    • Are events narrated in real time and , whenever possible, in chronological order?
    • Do transitions between subjects, sections, and chapters move smoothly. Are they all necessary? How do transitions impact the pacing of the story? Are transitions across time and space clear to the reader?
    • Are the themes and motifs in the story obvious in the use of language, similes, and metaphors throughout the manuscript?

Where to Find Editors?

Finding and hiring an editor is no different from hiring an employee. You look for someone who has the right skill set, expertise, reputation, and experience, and interview them to ensure you and your written work is a good match for them.

Willamette Writers is a good source for finding editors, as is the agents and editors list from Pacific Northwest Writers Association, if you wish to keep your search local to the Pacific Northwest.

The Society for Editors and Proofreaders offers their Directory of Editorial Services, made up of their professional members. The Association of Freelance Editors, Proofreaders & Indexers also offers a list of their members who are professionally trained and experienced. The Editorial Freelancers Association is another member resource to highly skilled professionals.

There are many editors marketing themselves online. Search for them using keywords that describe your genre and writing style to narrow the results, and vet them thoroughly before trusting your precious work to their eyes and hands.

Here is some advice from a variety of experts about the editing process to help you along the path to publishing.

After NaNoWriMo 2016

Congrats on surviving NaNoWriMo 2016. Whether you reached your 50K goal or not, you are a winner because you give it your all. You wrote. You set up a system to deal with your internal editor, schedule writing time, and find a support system, such as this site, to keep you on track and going forward, no matter how war you got. You did it.

Now what?

Thanks to the fantastic and creative work of past NaNoWriMo participants, we have access to tons of answers to that question.

Fist, NaNoWriMo doesn’t end just because the month of November is over. There are many events in your areas and online. NaNoWroMi offers “The ‘Now What?’ Months to help you keep going and staying on track from January through to the next NaNoWriMo in November. They have extensive archives of tips and pep talks to keep you going as well.

There is an active NaNoWriMo forum called Life After NaNoWriMo to help others to keep going afterwards.

If you are ready to publish, you can share your published entry on the Published Wrimos list.

Beth Cato wrote a great article on “Beginning After NaNoWriMo” tp take you step-by-step through the process. Here are some other great tips and resources:

If these aren’t enough, here is a collection of Pinterest finds for life after NaNoWriMo.

The one piece of advice that all of these people have in common is to keep going. You’ve created something here. Good, bad, or ugly, it is a gem in the rough and it is time now to start to hone it, chipping away the junk rock to find the beauty within, and polish it to make it shine.

There is no bad writing. There is potential in what you wrote. Keep working on it.

Don’t stop writing.

If you arrived late to this series to support NaNoWriMo participants, check out our writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.