Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Jeweler

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

The Occupation Thesaurus helps writers with characterization in the character building process. Could your protagonist, villain, or other cast member be a jeweler? Read on for more details.

My favorite jeweler. Click to visit her Etsy page!

Occupation: Jeweler

Overview: There are many careers within this industry. Jewelry designers (the focus of this entry) are those who design and manufacture jewelry. They may own their own business where they create products from their own imaginations, or they might work for a larger house, manufacturing jewelry requested by those in charge.

Necessary Training: No official training is required. Many people starting out in this field receive the necessary on-the-job training by apprenticing to a successful jeweler or working for one. Jewelers should be creative, but if they want to work independently, they’ll also need to have some knowledge of business and marketing.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Haggling, mechanically inclined, promotion, repurposing

Helpful Character Traits: Ambitious, creative, curious, disciplined, imaginative, industrious, meticulous, passionate, patient, patriotic, quirky, resourceful, talented

Sources of Friction: Being shortchanged by a customer, manufacturing a custom design that the customer isn’t happy with, a customer’s jewelry breaking due to a defect, discovering that the jewels one has been using weren’t sourced ethically, the price of materials rising and affecting one’s ability to buy them, being robbed, financial difficulties that make it impossible to buy new materials, one’s designs not being accepted by the public or critics, knock-off jewelers stealing one’s designs, being blocked creatively and having difficulty coming up with new ideas, an injury to one’s hands that makes it difficult for one to work, friends and loved ones who expect one to make jewelry for them for free or at discount, being unable to succeed creating one’s own jewelry and having to go into business for someone else, impatient family members who want one to give up the dream in favor of something more lucrative

People They Might Interact With: Customers, suppliers, delivery people, landlords, retail personnel at stores where the jeweler shops for merchandise, trade show attendees and vendors, jewelry store personnel, personal shoppers

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: It’s notoriously hard to succeed financially in a creative field. A jeweler who has to work extra jobs or take on a jewelry-related career that isn’t satisfying can easily become personally unfulfilled.
  • Esteem and Recognition: Esteem can take a hit when customers, critics, or buyers aren’t interested in or openly disparage one’s creations.
  • Safety and Security: A jeweler who is unfamiliar or careless with the chemicals and metals they’re working with may experience safety issues from misuse.

Common Work-Related Settings: Antiques shop, art gallery, black-tie event, museum, salvage yard, shopping mall, small town street, trade show, workshop

Twisting the Stereotype: 

  • Independent jewelers are often portrayed as women while high-end creatives are usually male (Harry Winston, Neil Lane, etc.). Switching this up could provide a welcome change
  • Jewelers typically work alone, but what about a partnership? Creative collaboration can be a wonderful thing, but it also provides many opportunities for realistic tension and conflict.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Stripping Down My Prose: Risking the Removal of Adjectives

Happy to welcome Margaret McNellis to the blog today. She’s tried an interesting experiment with her writing to create stronger, tighter prose, so please read on!

When I was a Masters of Arts student studying English and Creative Writing, one of the biggest issues I had with my writing is that my peers told me that while I chose beautiful words, there were simply too many of them. Not knowing which words to cut, I simply chalked it up to that they must have been unaccustomed to reading historical fiction. I needed those words to world-build.

Fast-forward two years to my first MFA residency week. I was exciting about the piece I’d submitted—a short story that fits into the historical mystery subgenre. My descriptions were nothing short of poetic. At the time, I thought that’s what literary fiction was. I thought if my descriptions jumped off the page like a poem, then I’d hit the mark. The main problem with this approach was that I was wrong.

(For the record, literary fiction is fiction that’s driven by character development; while plot is important, it’s not the propelling force of the work.)

Understanding where my definition of literary fiction was lacking helped me get closer to fixing my painfully poetic prose. Yes, literary fiction can often move at a slower pace. One way to slow the pace of a story is to describe more, to expand the exposition…but I was losing readers’ interest in the process, and therefore failing as a storyteller.

It wasn’t until I received my first feedback letter from my mentor that my solution began to gel in my mind. She’d addressed the first paragraph of my thesis, which began with this sentence:

“I slid numb-legged from the saddle, sinking knee-deep into snow, and settled one gloved hand against my horse’s neck; his withers jumped and trembled, though my hand was too cold to feel the bunching muscle.”

Write tighter: trim back those adjectives and adverbs for tighter prose. Editing tips for writers.

Re-reading this sentence now makes me gag because it’s littered with adjectives and adverbs that make me stumble toward the period, which acts like a piece of cheese for a mouse in a maze. That’s how I feel at the end of this sentence, grateful that I survived it and famished for the effort it took.

I was trying to show the reader that my protagonist was cold, that it was winter, and that this horse is nervous but possesses vitality. All my mentor did was suggest that there were too many adjectives and adverbs in my first paragraph—and throughout the first chapter—and that I should work on cutting back.

I couldn’t decide which adjectives and adverbs to cut, so I decided to take a risk, and I cut all of them.

Using the sentence above, my next draft read like this:

“I slid from the saddle, sinking into the snow. His withers jumped and his muscles bunched under my hand.”

This revision is much more compact. The world is cold—cold enough for deep snow. The horse still reacts to my protagonist’s dismount, and I’ve conveyed the animal’s strength. I also ended up splitting the sentence in two because I thought about the way people tend to breathe in the cold. They don’t take deep breaths, because the air is cold. By shortening my sentences, I evoked that feeling without having to say it.

I expected that removing all the adjectives and adverbs from my text would tighten my writing, but I didn’t think about how it would make it more active and exciting. By removing these modifiers, I had to think more about what my protagonist was doing, what his horse was doing, and how my protagonist felt.

By allowing myself to focus on those considerations, throughout the story I found better opportunities to develop Barnaby the horse as a character, instead of just an object to show off my protagonist’s connection to horses and the inauspicious start to his present mission.

Does this mean we should cut all modifiers? No. Using adjectives that provide a strong impact is fine. In my case, I found that in order to determine which ones were important, and fit my style as a writer, I had to dump them all first. I admit I felt a bit ashamed for letting my writing get so bogged down—especially with adverbs. I knew better!

But the lesson remains the same. Sometimes you have to take the risk and strip your writing to its bones, like taking a house down to studs, before you can build it back up again.

Do you use too many modifiers? What technique have you used to pare back? Let us know in the comments!

Margaret McNellis is an MFA student, teaching assistant, author, and freelance writer/editor.

She blogs and podcasts about writing and teaching at http://mmcnellis.com. Connect with her on Twitter @mcnelliswrites or on Facebook.

Posted in Editing Tips, Grammar, Guest Post, Revision and Editing | 19 Comments

What Does Your Protagonist Want BEFORE the Story Starts?

Imagine getting up in the morning and not wanting anything (not even coffee). No, seriously, try. Imagine having no agenda. Sure, that may sound great for a bit – especially given that crazy-busy seems to be the new normal.

But I’m not talking about taking a much-needed break. Because even when we do kick back and do nothing for a while, it’s usually so we can relax, rejuvenate, and get ready to tackle our ongoing agenda with more focus and verve (and coffee).

Instead, imagine you have no agenda at all, period. No desire, no plan – nor does anything really bother you, because if it did you’d try to do something about it, and then, bingo! You’d have an agenda. Instead, you’re goal-less, passively reacting to everything that happens, with no real opinion, desire or subjective need.

Truth is, the state I just described sounds kind of impossible. Because we humans always have a driving agenda, even if it’s just to be left alone. And that thing we want? It not only defines our agenda in the moment, but it’s been driving us for a very long time.

You know who else operates that way? Your protagonist. And yet writers often forget to ask what their protagonist has been striving toward before she’s tossed into that dark and stormy night on page one. And so said protagonist enters the story agenda-less, patiently waiting for the plot to bestow one upon her. As a result she becomes what the plot needs her to be, rather than the plot challenging who she already is – which is what a story is actually about. Sadly, this is why so many manuscripts fall into the dreaded realm of being nothing but “a bunch of things that happen.”

Here’s the simple, actionable fact: All protagonists enter the story already wanting something very badly. With that in mind, here are four questions to ask to be sure that your protagonist has a driving need that’s capable of steering your novel from start to finish:

1. What does my protagonist enter the story already wanting?

starting line, character motivation, goals, inner and outer, conflict

This is something she has wanted for a long time (think years, if not decades), not something she discovers she has a hankering for five minutes before she shows up on page one. What’s more, this desire is going to drive her story-specific agenda all the way to the end. Wait, you may be thinking. What she’s going to want is true love from the guy who’ll move into her dorm in chapter two, and her agenda will be to make him fall in love with her. Since she hasn’t met him yet, how on earth can she enter already wanting him? Are you saying I need to make her a psychic or something?

Happily, no. Here’s the secret: that guy will be the personification of what she entered the story already wanting. So let’s say what she wants someone who will love her for who she really is – and she thinks he’s her guy. Which brings us to . . .

2. Why does she want it?

This question – Gee, why would she want someone to love her for who she really is? —sounds a tad ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean who wouldn’t want that? Which is precisely why that’s NOT the answer. It’s too generic. What you’re looking for is her unique, specific, personal reason.

The crucial element is: What does she think finding someone who’ll love her for who she is will say about her? How will achieving this goal affect how she sees herself?

Hmmm, well diving deeper, perhaps she has long felt that the social world sees her as considerably lesser-than, unworthy – a real misfit in fact — and she believes that if she is accepted by someone who the social world swoons for, it will prove to them, and to her, that she’s their equal. Perfect!

3. Yes, but is it what she really wants? If not, why not? And in that case, what DOES she really want?

We’re on a roll, so let’s stick with our misfit protagonist, and let’s say that, in fact, what she really wants is NOT her dorm mate’s love. She just thinks she does. Why is she wrong? Because getting his love is not going to make her feel worthy. In fact, it’s going to make her feel like a fraud, because – ironically – she doesn’t actually love him. Plus, turns out there’s another social misfit she hasn’t been able to admit to herself that she genuinely cares for, because if she did, it would double down on her misfit-ness (as far as her social world is concerned).

Here we get bonus points: because we’ve also just uncovered the most crucial layer of the story: our protagonist’s longstanding misbelief. That is, what she goes into the story believing to be true about human nature that, as it turns out, is wrong. Here, it’s the aforementioned notion that self-worth is something that is bestowed upon you by others, rather than something that comes from inside yourself. It is this misbelief that, scene-by-scene, the plot will force our protagonist to confront, reevaluate and hopefully overcome.

So okay, if she doesn’t want her dorm mate’s love, then what does she want? Our protagonist wants to stand on her own two feet and feel worthy as she is, and to stop beating herself up for being different. This is clearly something that, even if her dorm mate were her true love, no one else can give her. It’s something that she needs to come to on her own.

4. What has your protagonist been doing to achieve her agenda before page one, and how does she intend to bring it to fruition in the story-present?

This is a more important question than it may appear at first blush. Because this is the direct link between the driving desire your protagonist enters with (which often sounds conceptual, general, abstract) and how you make it real, tangible, and specific via clear, concrete action. Thus the answer wouldn’t be: My protagonist’s agenda is to find someone who will love her for who she is. Because, um, how? That’s totally conceptual. The “how” is the key question here. What is she doing specifically? Where is she in this quest? What steps is she taking, actively? In other words: what is her plan? We’re not just talking about her plan from the moment she steps onto page one, but her plan before that, the plan that led her there.

For instance, perhaps our protagonist took classes in high school, and now college, that the popular kids take – classes that she finds ridiculously easy, deeply dull and even at times, ethically questionable – the better to find someone who’ll validate her. The irony, of course, is that she’s been hiding who she really is, so if someone did fall for her, it wouldn’t be the real her at all. What’s more, perhaps keeping her true self (and beliefs) under wraps has left her so conflicted that her misfit nature is about to explode all over what is “socially acceptable.” Or maybe she’s been so unsuccessful in gaining the acceptance she craves that she feels utterly beaten down and is on the brink of realizing it’s a lost cause. Point being: she’s been trying to bring her plan to fruition for quite a while by the time you shove her onto the page. Yes, even if she’s already given up on getting what she wants.

Sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? But accepting failure can be part of the cause-and-effect trajectory that catapults her onto the page and into the fray. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t still have the same desire she’s always had, it’s just that at this point in her life, she’s trying to make peace with the fact that it sure as heck seems like she’ll never get it.

To sum up, here are three things that define a potent driving desire:

  • It’s something that your protagonist has wanted and has been striving for probably since childhood, although not necessarily in the same from as she wants it now.
  • It has the capacity to fuel the protagonist’s story-specific agenda, from the first page to the last.
  • It has two layers:
    1. Externally, it’s the surface, plot-based, concrete thing that the protagonist wants.
    2. Internally (which is what matters most) it’s what getting it will mean to her.

And finally, once you know what your protagonist’s driving desire is, don’t forget to clue your reader into it, hopefully on the very first page. Think all those Disney musical “I Want” songs, which the great songwriter Howard Ashman once summed up as “when the leading lady sits down on something [onstage] and sings about what she wants in life.” Thus “the audience falls in love with her and then roots for her to get it for the rest of the night.”

Here’s hoping this helps you achieve your driving desire: to write a novel that leaps off the page straight into your reader’s heart.

 

Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her video tutorial Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story can be found at Lynda.com, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.

In her work as a private story coach, Lisa helps writers of all ilk wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. For a library of her free myth-busting writing tips, and information on how to work with her one-on-one, you can find her at: wiredforstory.com

 

 

Posted in Character Arc, Characters, Motivation, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 18 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Animal Rescue Worker

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Animal Rescue Worker

Overview: There are many different jobs under the umbrella of animal rescue workers: owners and managers of shelters, veterinarians and technicians, trainers, deployment workers, animal control officers, and even wildlife rehabilitation workers, just to name a few. This entry will focus on rescue deployment workers, who are called out to assess, and if needed, rescue domestic animals in distress. The animals may be at risk due to hoarding situations (on farms as well as pet owners), abandoned animals, dog-fighting rings, puppy mills, factory farms, or disaster relief when animals are displaced.

Necessary Training: To join a rescue group, often a person only needs a high school diploma, as they will receive training by the organization on assessments (determining the condition of an animal, their age, possible risk factors, if abuse has occurred, injuries or diseases, etc.), the safe handling of animals, different risk scenarios, basic care, and rehabilitation. If a person wishes to move up the chain, especially to work their way into a management role, they may need a business diploma. Some rescue workers will come into the job with a psychology background or take courses in handling people, learning how to de-escalate situations with owners.

If a rescue worker frequently works in animal rescue and re-homing in disaster situations (forest fires, flooding, etc.) then specialized training for working in these environments would also be needed, such as setting up a base of operations, adhering to safety protocols, gathering and managing volunteers, working in tandem with other aid-based groups, collecting food, kennels, bedding, or securing transporting as needed, getting animals medical care, reuniting animals with owners in the aftermath, etc.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, a knack for making money, a way with animals, basic first aid, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others,  multitasking, photographic memory, promotion, swift-footedness, wilderness navigation

Helpful Character Traits: Adaptable, adventurous, affectionate, alert, calm, cautious, cooperative, courageous, disciplined, kind, merciful, nature-focused, nurturing, organized, passionate, persistent, persuasive, protective, socially aware

Sources of Friction: Owners who do not want to give up their animals, knowing abuse is occurring but not being able to prove it, finding animals so bad off the humane thing is to put them down, discovering acts of cruelty but being unable to find the person responsible, having to go to the same home or farm multiple times because the person is a repeat offender (such as a hoarder or puppy mill owner), always struggling with funding issues, having too many animals to rescue and not enough shelter space

People They Might Interact With: animal rescue workers, pet owners, ranchers and farmers, police officers, people from other aid organizations, veterinarian, shelter workers, dog groomers, rehabilitation specialists, animal foster families, advocacy (animal rights) groups

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A character in this occupation could suffer a crisis of faith at seeing the cruelty people are capable of
  • Esteem and Recognition: A rescue worker who is unable to rescue animals in time may internalize the weight of the pain that animal suffered and feel their have failed, questioning their own self-worth and abilities.
  • Love and Belonging: Having to travel, and the long hours of rescue work may not leave a lot of time for other people, especially if the rescue worker is caring for animals themselves, being part of the rehabilitation chain.
  • Safety and Security: someone in this profession may be in danger if stepping into a situation unaware, both from people (violent owners, criminals using animals for profit, etc.) and the animals themselves (who may have rabies, or be violent due to mistreatment.

Common Work-Related Settings: alley, backyard, badlands, barn, basement, big city street, campsite, chicken coop, circus, condemned apartment building, construction site, country road, courtroom, creek, empty lot, factory, farm, forest, homeless shelter, house fire, landfill, motor home, mountains, park, pasture, pet store, police station, quarry, race track (horses), ranch, razed city street, refugee camp, river, salvage yard, sewers, trailer park, underpass, waiting room

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Critiques 4 U

writing weather winter critique group

My snowy yard

Happy January, everyone! Typically, this is a month redolent with opportunity and new beginnings. Where I live, it also means that your kids only go to school half the time. So…kind of counter-productive. On the upside, snow days mean sleeping in, waffle breakfasts, and long days in pajamas. Also, lots of reading. So let’s do a critique contest, shall we?

CRITIQUES 4 U!

CONTEST CLOSED

If you’re working on a first page and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment that includes:

1) your email address. Some of you have expressed concern about making your email address public; if you’re sure that the email address associated with your WordPress account is correct, you don’t have to include it here. But if you do win and I’m unable to contact you through that email address, I’ll have to choose an alternate winner.

2) your story’s genre (no erotica, please)

Also, please be sure your first page is ready to go so I can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to me right away, I’d like to ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of. 🙂

~~ONLY ENTRIES THAT FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED~~

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments

Writers, Ready to Write Naked?

The holiday season may be over but the fervor of LET’S DO THIS is still in everyone’s veins. You guys are all ready to show 2018 who’s boss, right?

We want to help, so we’re giving away a writerly pair of books to encourage you to go deep, and yes, write naked.

Becca and I are joining forces with New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Jennifer Probst in one sweet giveaway.

TWO lucky winners are going to win this pair of signed resources.

Write Naked: A Bestseller’s Guide to Writing Romance & Navigating the Path to Success

Learn how to transform your passion for writing into a career. New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Probst reveals her pathway to success, from struggling as a new writer to signing a seven-figure deal. Write Naked intermingles personal essays on craft with down-to-earth advice on writing romance in the digital age. Probst will teach you how to:

  • Commit to your current work-in-progress, get focused, and complete it on schedule
  • Reveal raw emotions and thoughts on the page to hook your readers
  • Assemble a street team to promote and celebrate your books
  • Overcome writer’s block with ease
  • Develop themes that tie together your books and series
  • Write the most difficult elements of romance–including sex scenes–with skill and style

Regardless of the genre, every novelist faces a difficult task. Creating authentic characters and an engaging plot are challenging enough. But attempting to break into the hotter-than-ever romance genre, which is constantly flooded with new titles and fresh faces? It can feel impossible. This is where Probst’s Write Naked comes in. To survive–and thrive–you need the help and wisdom of an expert.

Angela’s three-fiddy: This book is amazing. You want it. Trust me. It’s great if you specifically write romance, but even if you don’t, there’s strong advice that translates to all genres and to every writer seeking success. You’ll find my endorsement under Editorial Reviews.

The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma

To deliver characters that are both realistic and compelling, writers must know them intimately—not only who they are in the present story, but also what made them that way. Of all the formative experiences in a character’s past, none are more destructive than emotional wounds. The aftershocks of trauma can change who they are, alter what they believe, and sabotage their ability to achieve meaningful goals, all of which will affect the trajectory of your story. Inside, you’ll find:

  • A database of over 100 traumatic situations common to the human experience
  • An in-depth study on a wound’s impact, including the fears, lies, personality shifts, and dysfunctional behaviors that can arise from different painful events
  • An extensive analysis of character arc and how the wound and any resulting unmet needs fit into it
  • Techniques on how to show the past experience to readers in a way that is both engaging and revelatory while avoiding the pitfalls of info dumps and telling
  • And much more

Extensively researched, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus is a crash course in psychology for creating characters that feel incredibly real to readers.

Angela’s three-fiddy: I know many of you swear by The Emotion Thesaurus, and we are thrilled you love that book (we do too!). The Emotional Wound Thesaurus, though? I personally believe it’s our best resource yet.  😉 

Ready to Win a Seriously Powerful Book Set?

Simply go HERE to enter.

(Giveaway ends 1/31.) Good luck!

We really hope the year has started off well for you and the months ahead will have some fabulous surprises in store. Put those words on the page. Embrace your craft. Let your creativity shine!

~ Happy writing & giveaway-entering,

Angela & Becca

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Harness Your Creative Momentum

Our own writing coach Gabriel Periera is coming off the high of her recent TED talk (yes, she’s done an actual TED talk) with some new ideas on how to stay motivated and move forward with our writing goals. If you’re looking for ways to maximize your results and productivity in the next few months, read on for some helpful tips.

It’s that time of year when people are making—and breaking—New Year’s Resolutions. If you’re like me (and many other writers), you likely struggle with making room for your writing or getting past writer’s block. In fact, when preparing my recent TEDx talk on the craft of creativity, I came up against these same obstacles and realized that the solution is simple: just sit down and do the work.

But just because the answer is simple doesn’t make it easy to execute. This is why, as you gear up to tackle your writing goals in the New Year, it’s good to have the right tools and resources at your disposal. Here are three things you need in order to reach your creative goals.

1. A Reason Why

Most writers write because they love it, because they can’t not do it. But have you ever stopped to think—really think—about why you chose writing over all the other possible creative outlets you could have? Think back to the time when you first started writing for real, not just doodling or jotting down notes, but writing something that was meaningful to you, that you felt had impact.

For me, that moment was in elementary school when I would sneak away during recess and hide in an empty classroom, jotting down stories and writing plays in a battered composition notebook. While most teachers might have been delighted that a student was writing during recess, my third grade teacher did not approve and she even relegated me to a remedial English class because of my uncooperative and non-conforming behavior.

Looking back I realize now that for most young writers, this would have been heartbreaking, but for me it was the lighting of a fire. From the moment that teacher labeled me as a “problem” and told me I was “no good” at writing, I became determined to prove her wrong, and that defiant urge has spurred me on ever since.

A mentor of mine once told me: “When you’re in competition, the one with the biggest WHY wins.” I think there’s truth to that and if you know why writing matters to you, you’re more likely to dedicate the time and energy to it that it requires.

2. A Structure or Routine

Finding time and building discipline are among the most common challenges writers tell me they encounter, but if you give yourself a structure or a routine, it becomes much easier to get past that obstacle. When I created DIY MFA years ago, I did so because I wanted to keep up the same structure that a traditional MFA program had given me. I was secretly terrified at the prospect of graduation and I wanted some way to keep that momentum going.

When I was writing the book, DIY MFA, again I relied on my routine to keep myself on track. This time it was the regular schedule of squeezing in my writing between when I dropped my son off at preschool and when I had to pick him up a few short hours later. Having a regular routine made my writing non-negotiable and a no-brainer. I didn’t have to stop and think, “When will I do my writing today?” I knew when because it was the time I did so every day: between 9:00-11:30, while my son was in preschool. Not having to think about it meant I wouldn’t question it, I would just sit down and write as though it were any other job.

3. A Community

When you’re embarking on a new and ambitious goal, a strong community can be game changing. Yet for many writers, community can be one of the most difficult things to find, often because they’re looking for the wrong thing. Most writers think community is first and foremost about getting other writers to read and critique your work. While critique is certainly one benefit of a writing community, I recommend starting with building friendship and trust first.

Accountability and support are two big benefits of finding a community. By sharing your goals with fellow writers or even sitting and writing side-by-side, you’re more likely to stay focused and put in the legwork to reach your goal. In terms of support, that can be either personal—like getting the emotional support you need—or professional. The latter can include anything that opens doors for your creative career, such as advice from a mentor, an introduction to a key influencer, or other opportunities.

I often recommend that writers start by looking more for accountability and support, as critique partnerships require a certain level of trust that takes time to build. My most trusted readers are ones whom I connected with as friends first, then eventually asked for feedback on my work.

The WHY is unique to the individual writer, and the only way to discover it is by doing some deep soul-searching. The structure and community, on the other hand, are much easier to find and you don’t have to come up with them from scratch. In fact, we have an event happening at DIY MFA right now that can help you both with developing a structure for your writing and finding a community. This event is the DIY MFA Book Club and you can sign up for free just by clicking the link and entering your email address.


Part writing challenge and part read-along, the Book Club is a chance to learn and apply signature DIY MFA concepts and connect with like-minded writers in the process. Every few days, you’ll receive a writing prompt via email to help unleash your creative momentum and get your writing. Want to join? Click here and sign up!

Gabriela Pereira is the founder of DIYMFA.com, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She is also a speaker, podcast host for DIY MFA Radio, and author of the forthcoming book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community (Writer’s Digest Books, July 2016). Join the word nerd community at DIYMFA.com/join.

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Posted in Focus, Goal and Milestones, Motivational, Writer's Block | 8 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Therapist (Mental Health)

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. (See this post for more information on this connection.) It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

character development, occupations, writing a novel, creative writing

Occupation: Therapist

Overview: A mental health therapist provides support and help for those who are struggling with mental or emotional problems. A therapist may open their doors to any clientele or they may focus on an area of specialization (marriages and families, substance abuse, grief, life coaching, etc.). They may own their own business, be part of a practice, or work out of a specific location, such as a hospital, prison or detention facility, detox center or halfway house, church, or school system. Online counseling is also becoming a popular option for those seeking this kind of help.

Many mental health occupations are mentioned synonymously, but there are distinct differences. It should be noted that while Psychologists may provide therapy, many of them choose to work in academic or research settings. Likewise, a Psychiatrist also holds a higher degree and has the distinction of being able to prescribe medication.

Necessary Training: A four-year degree is required in the US, with certain kinds of therapy also requiring a master’s degree. Many clinical hours are also necessary to achieve the needed on-the-ground training before a therapist can hang their shingle.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Empathy, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, reading people

Helpful Character Traits: Analytical, calm, cooperative, curious, decisive, diplomatic, discreet, efficient, empathetic, friendly, gentle, honest, honorable, intelligent, kind, merciful, meticulous, nurturing, observant, optimistic, organized, patient, perceptive, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional, responsible, sensible, studious, supportive, tolerant, wise

Sources of Friction: Being unable to find the solution that works for a client, a client who is unable or unwilling to open up and be honest about their situation, a client’s dysfunction escalating while in one’s care (them committing suicide, abusing a child, killing someone, etc.), misreading or misdiagnosing a client, becoming romantically involved with a client, harboring prejudice against a client, needing to break confidentiality to protect someone but knowing it will impact trust with the client, tempers flaring in a group therapy session, working with an inept or incapacitated partner, a client with uncooperative family members or caregivers who undermine progress, alienating loved ones through one’s constant psychoanalysis, bringing one’s work home (being unable to keep one’s mind from obsessing over a client or the difficult life circumstances one hears about on a daily basis), seeing clearly how to help others but having blind spots in one’s personal life, a client in crisis interfering with one’s personal life, being stalked or attacked by an unstable client or someone close to that person

People They Might Interact With: Clients (children, teens, couples, inmates, veterans, the elderly, etc.), the client’s family members or caregivers, other mental health practitioners (social workers, psychiatrists, etc.), medical doctors, school officials, administrative personnel (a receptionist, janitors, an office manager)

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: Not every therapist can help every client, but a professional who has more than their share of failures may begin to doubt their capabilities—even if the fault isn’t theirs. The therapist may also suffer a lack of esteem if their choice of clientele (pedophiles, serial killers, etc.) brings them low in the eyes of others
  • Love and Belonging: It’s said that some therapists follow this career path out of a desire to fix themselves, but this is easier said than done. If a therapist is deeply wounded, they may have difficulty getting along with others or connecting in healthy ways on a personal level. Their need to “fix” others can also cause problems when they consistently try to do this with loved ones.
  • Safety and Security: If a therapist’s practice takes them into an unsafe place, such as a dangerous neighborhood or high-security prison, their safety and security may be threatened on a regular basis.

Common Work-Related Settings: church, community center, courtroom, hospital (interior), juvenile detention center, parking garage, police station, psychiatric ward, therapist’s office, university lecture hall, university quad, waiting room

Twisting the Stereotype: In stories, therapists tend to play the mentor role. But what about a therapist villain, who is out to emotionally destroy others, or a therapist love interest who creates unusual sources of conflict for the protagonist?

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

How To Write Characters With PTSD

So excited to have Lisa Hall-Wilson here today to share some insight on how to write PTSD realistically…

Hey hey! *mittened fist-bump* 😊 Thanks so much for having me!

Writers are always looking for ways to add authenticity to their stories and characters, so I thought I’d share some down and dirty deets about living with PTSD.

Why Write About PTSD?

ptsd, writing characters realistic, character building, characterization

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been called shell shock and historically was lumped in with ‘hysteria’ for women. You can research this mental illness, the causes, and the symptoms, (here’s a great link), but I’m more interested in helping you write it with accuracy.

Giving characters a traumatic past and an ongoing condition that hinders their ability to move on is essential to a great character arc. The character struggling with PTSD is facing overwhelming odds, and any character who stands up to a bully of any kind (even when it’s disguised as a mental illness) is someone readers will cheer for.

To that end, I’d like to share five tips for writing a character with PTSD.

#5 – Avoid Recalling Traumatic Events

Don’t let your characters spend time navel-gazing about the events that traumatized them. (I’m talking more about backstory than nightmares or flashbacks.) Yes, I’ve seen this. Who wants to dwell on that or talk about it at all? Instead, show the coping mechanisms used to control the symptoms or turn their mind off. Show symptoms of anxiety and then send them for another lap around the block even though they’ve already done 5 more than usual.

The emotions and physical symptoms left by the trauma are so uncomfortable your character will proactively seek a way to get control, but they will avoid thinking about the why.

#4 – Show The War Going On Inside Your Character

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When PTSD is triggered, everything amps up like an adrenaline rush is forced on you and won’t stop—in other words, you don’t need a flashback to show it. At the same time, the mind is ramping up your body and simultaneously trying to regain control of the physical response. Basically, when PTSD is triggered, your character will be at war with themselves.

The physical symptoms are easy to show; just write what’s happening to their bodies. Let internal dialogue focus on their awareness of being irrational, that there’s no threat, yet they’re unable to feel safe. They’ll struggle to control, to conceal, to minimize what others can see. Get it? I’m a BIG fan of Deep POV so I focus on showing the primary emotions through physiology and internal dialogue and showing secondary emotions through outward actions and spoken dialogue. (For more info on this, you can get my Writing Emotions In Layers 5 day ecourse here for FREE.) I think the Netflix series Jessica Jones shows this very well, so consider that as a possible resource.

#3 – PTSD Is About Minimizing Triggers

Those managing PTSD will have a proactive (but not necessarily healthy) strategy to manage symptoms. Some methods might be subtle while others are extreme. When triggered, survival instincts kick in and your choices are simple: fight, flight, or freeze. Do you know what your character’s primal goal is when they’re triggered? Is it safety? Is it survival? Is it escaping? Have them seek that out at all costs.

They could have a mantra they recite to control their thoughts. They might have a safe person, someone they trust to watch their backs in new or upsetting situations. Grounding techniques involve consciously cataloguing why the what-ifs won’t happen (There are two exits, It’s a public space, etc.). The slow removal of their dependence on these management techniques is a great way to show growth.

#2 – Give Them A Tell

Self-awareness is critical for management. Your mind starts the whole ball rolling and sets your body off: I’m not safe. I’m not safe. It’s very hard to catch this mental initiation; more often your body tips you off that your mind is racing. The self-awareness has one purpose: to enable you to manage what you see coming.

I have a couple of tells that always tip me off: blushing and sweating—profuse sweating disproportionate to the environment. Does your character have a physical symptom they’ve trained themselves to watch for? Have your character become more self-aware throughout the novel. Let them become more aware of the problematic thoughts jumpstarting the crazy train. They’ll want to hide what’s going on because it makes others uncomfortable (people stare, they avoid the character, or treat them differently). Show the character’s awareness of the stigma, and let them fail from time to time.

#1 – Blindside Your Character

You can be blindsided by a trigger at any point. A situation that’s been fine a thousand other times can trigger you that one day. This is a great device to save for a pivotal conflict.

It’s like a two-by-four to the head. Show their emotional wounds bleeding all over the floor and have them keep going anyway. Show them growing stronger, trusting people again, forgiving themselves, etc. Let the whole process be messy, two steps forward and one step back. The stories that end in a pretty bow and leave everyone “cured” simply aren’t authentic.

Have a question you’d like to ask about writing PTSD in fiction with realism? What’s the most compelling portrayal of PTSD in fiction you’ve seen so far?

Lisa Hall-Wilson is an award-winning journalist and author. She’s passionate about helping writers take their craft to the next level. Lisa’s next class is Method Acting For Writing: Learning To Write In Deep POV on January 22. At the heart of Deep POV is an immersive experience for the reader through an emotional connection to the character. There are a number of stylistic choices an author makes to facilitate this. This interactive 3-week intensive gathers ten years of in-the-trenches study and writing all in one place to help you write better faster.

Posted in Character Wound, Characters, Emotion, Show Don't Tell | 16 Comments

Owning Your Writing Career in 2018

For writers with a desire to draft, edit, or complete a book, the New Year is a shining beacon of hope and productivity. For 90% of the writing population, the first couple of weeks of January are a feverish haze of churning out words—until real life rears its ugly head, all “Cooey, it’s me, did you forget your (kids/job/dog/grandma’s food shop)?And before you know it, you’ve careened off the bandwagon and your bookish goal has disappeared.

So, how can you stay productive and meet your writing goals for the next 365 days?

Goal-Tastic

First you need goals, but everyone knows that, so I won’t belabor the point. I will, however, say two things:

  • If you don’t articulate what you want to achieve clearly and with a deadline, then walking the path to the finish line is like trudging through opaque glue: hard, messy and full of sticky problems.
  • Be as public with those goals as you can, whether it’s through a blog, your personal Facebook profile or something else. The more people who know you’re trying to achieve something, the better, because A) there’s nothing like the pressure of ‘expectation’ to keep you going, and B) if they see you working for it, they’ll support you to achieve it.

Peer Pressure Support

There’s a reason kids obsess over fads: peer pressure is super effective. So why not capitalize on it as a writer? Use an accountability partner. They don’t have to be another writer but should be someone with a similar mindset and work ethic as you.

How does it work?

  • Have a monthly catch-up (I use FaceTime because we don’t live in the same country).
  • Each person set three goals for the following month. Partners should moderate the goals to ensure they’re not too pessimistic or overly optimistic. Remember that the goals don’t all have to be about words; my partner and I tend to have a marketing goal, a word count goal, and a slower-burn project goal.
  • Hold weekly check-ins to monitor progress and a review at the end of the month that incorporates a new goal-setting session.

Does it really work?

Hell yeah, it does. Both me and my accountability partner tripled our weekly word count within six months of working with each other. TRIPLED.

Timing Is Everything

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Courtesy: Pixabay

Lots of writers set a deadline and work to that date. That’s fine, until your kid gets sick or your laptop breaks. Then you’re pickled, like a gherkin, and no one needs to be sat in a jar of vinegar all day; it’s bad for the writing hands.

The answer?

Slippage time. When a piece of work has a firm due date, give yourself a deadline that’s a week or two (or whatever is relevant) earlier. That way if anything goes wrong or life gets in the way, you have spare days to make up the time.

Commit To Developing Your Craft

This might seem like a strange one – saying you need to commit to study when studying will inevitably take time away from producing words. But think about it: the better you are at your craft, the cleaner your first drafts are and the more productive you become.

There are some easy ways of doing this without spending hundreds of dollars on courses:

  • Don’t passively read. Engage with the stories you encounter by examining the structure, style, and sentence construction.
  • Make a list of writing topics you would like to improve on and spend some time researching one each month.
  • Watch webinars or tutorials.
  • Read more nonfiction writing craft books.
  • Get more feedback on your work.

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Writers are notorious for suffering from Doubt And Imposter Syndrome. It stops you doing the things that will help grow your writing business—which is exactly why you need to get out of your comfort zone.

To counteract this, commit to doing one thing each week that makes you nervous. A few ideas:

  • Pitch an article to a magazine or big indie author you’ve always dreamed of working with.
  • Pitch a podcast.
  • Host a webinar.
  • Submit a piece to a competition or your book to an award contest.
  • Set a gruelling word count.

Sure, you might hear a few no’s along the way, but you’ll never hear a yes if you don’t try. Be bold, be brave, and I promise you, good things will happen.

Pull The Plug On ‘I Can’t’

Here’s the non-sugar-coated truth: the only thing that can get in the way of you achieving your writing goal is you. If I had a dollar for every time someone said I Can’t, I really would be a wealthy girl. We’re all busy—believe me, I get that. But you are the only one who can make your dream come true. No one else is going to do it for you. I love this quote:

“If you have time to whine then you have time to find a solution.” Dee Dee Artner

Next time you find yourself about to make an excuse, consider the following questions:

  • What can I re-prioritize?
  • Could that new TV episode wait?
  • What chunks of time could I dedicate to writing? (the lunch break, an hour before the family wakes up, during naptime, etc.)
  • Do you have a friend or relative that you could ask to sit with the kids for an hour?
  • What could you give up temporarily to make time for your writing?

Like Artner says: no more excuses, just solutions. Because the answer is out there.

If you want to make 2018 the year you finally stick to your writing goals, then be clear what you want from the outset. Give yourself slippage time, study hard, try new things, get out of your comfort zone, and get yourself an accountability partner for support and the occasional nudge.

Sacha Black is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy, and her first series, Keepers, is due out in November 2017.

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Posted in Focus, Goal and Milestones, Motivational, Resident Writing Coach, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Time | 24 Comments