What Writing About Personal Experience Teaches

What Writing About Personal Experience Teaches

What Writing About Personal Experience Teaches

By Writing Gym Alumnae Sonee Singh

I have been in the Writing Gym for eight months and it has transformed the way I write. The program has pushed me to expand and explore my writing in unexpected ways. I am in the midst of editing a women’s fiction novel, yet I have realized there is value in writing about my personal experiences.

I enjoy writing fiction because it allows me to explore the unfamiliar. I write characters unlike myself and I have them participate in activities I would not normally engage in. Fiction also allows me to explore the familiar. I write about traits within me or people I know, I give my characters my hobbies and interests, and I place them in settings I have visited. I give a voice to the experiences in my life under the cover of made-up scenes.

Salons are an integral part of the Writing Gym experience. In these salons, Annalisa Parent, who runs the Writing Gym, provides us a writing prompt and gives us 20 minutes to write non-stop. We, the participants, take turns sharing our writing and provide feedback in a way that highlights the strengths in our pieces. Salons have helped me gain confidence as a writer, discover skills in my writing that I didn’t know were in me, and build a supportive bond with my fellow writers.

A couple of weeks ago, Annalisa did something unexpected. She asked us to write about a personal experience. I panicked. When I have written about myself in the past, no one knew. Now they would and it made me feel naked. Salons are safe environments but I felt exposed.

It’s natural to feel vulnerable. When we share our personal stories, we open ourselves to criticism. It shouldn’t matter what other people think. After all, writing is something we do for ourselves. Still, we need to get over the fear of judgment and that takes courage. However, it can be freeing and empowering.

Writing about our experiences also forces us to look within. This can lead us to recall the positive and joyful moments, but anytime we peer into the recesses of our past, we also run the risk of finding buried hurts, shunned memories, or dulled pain. It exposes that which we never intended to see the light. It exposes what we have lived through and what we have survived.

There is a benefit in that. It allows us to accept what happened to us–good and bad. We can’t change our history. But we don’t have to hold on to it. Accepting the past helps us heal. It helps us release. It allows us to let go of the experience, let go of what it holds within us, and let go of the emotions that we attached to it. In bringing it to light, it ceases to fester, diminishing its significance.

It is not about exposing ourselves. It is about unburdening. It is about the catharsis. And that has another consequence. Sharing is authentic. Sharing brings a voice to our experiences and it makes our writing unique. It makes us relatable. It also allows us to feel lighter. At least it has done for me. After the salon where I shared my story, I felt oddly liberated and it brought a smile to my face. It opened up something for me–a sense of ease I hadn’t felt before. I was motivated to do more.

I encourage everyone to be open to writing about personal experiences. It may result in a pleasant surprise.

While in the Writing Gym, not only has Sonee revised her women’s fiction to publishable, she has also published two poetry anthologies.
Want to know how you can get the same results?

Writing Excuses: I Can’t Write!

Writing Excuses: I Can’t Write!

Writing Excuses: I Can’t Write!

By Writing Gym Alumnus Stephen Oliver

“I can’t write because…”

Name your problem: space, time, people, inspiration, whatever.

I have heard this, seen this, read this, more times than I care to remember. Especially in the last year, since I became active in several FaceBook writing groups.

Sorry, people, but that isn’t a reason for not writing, it’s an excuse. And a feeble one at that.

Recently, I stood in the cottage where Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for three years with his wife and family. It was by far the worst house in the village. The rooms were small, and the only heating came from a small fire in one room. At the time he moved in, the thatched roof was leaking, mice were running riot, and he had no money. Moreover, there were often other people visiting: the Wordsworths, Poole, and so on.

And yet…

While there, he penned some of the greatest lyrical ballad poems of the age: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan” to mention but two.

He wrote despite the frankly appalling conditions in his home. Cold so bad, for instance, that his son Hartley would cry at night, forcing Coleridge to bring him downstairs to his writing room because it had a fireplace. The mice I have already mentioned. And how they accommodated their visitors, I shudder to think.

And yet…

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree…”

If he could write that in these terrible conditions, then you, sitting in front of your computer in a warm, comfortable home or an air-conditioned office, have no excuse at all.

So, get off your backsides, or on them, as the case may be, and start writing. Even if you can’t create something as wonderful and ethereal as Coleridge did, it will still be far better than the nothing you are producing right now while whining at me.

Cure: Write Something, Anything

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the cure for writer’s block is to write.

You don’t have to write your novel, short story, memoir, or whatever it is that’s causing you a problem. That will come later.

But you have to write something.

It could even be about the frustration of not being able to write anything, if nothing else. We want to get our fingers moving on the keyboard, the pen scribbling on paper, and our thoughts out into the world in black and white. After all, if it’s garbage, we can always throw it away or delete it. But we have to get the energies moving.

The Muse does not appear if we don’t invite her by writing.

It’s okay if you don’t reach your daily writing goal, either. I’ve had days where the only words I wrote were submission queries while reformatting the manuscript once again for yet another agency or publisher. I’ve spoken about it in another post (Submissions). At other times, I’ve been revising and editing a manuscript to get it into shape for submission in the first place. On these days, I’m lucky if I get a dozen words added to the manuscripts, although I may have altered hundreds.

So what? It’s all part of the process. If you want to become a published author and do this professionally, then you have to be professional about it.

I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp. – Somerset Maugham

Need Help?

Personally, the quantity (and quality) of my writing improved once I joined the Writing Gym. Since joining, I have written hundreds of thousands of words, most of which I intend to publish some day.

It all began after I had written an anthology of short stories but didn’t know what to do with it. And I was stuck on a novel.

Yeah, I had writer’s block!

I first heard of the Gym when Annalisa Parent’s publisher was looking for advanced readers of her book Storytelling for Pantsers: How to Write and Revise Your Novel Without an Outline. I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) and soon realised that I had found someone who understood the way I write.

You have to understand that I’m a pantser (or Discovery Writer) through and through, writing as the Muse dictates, with little knowledge of where she is taking me. Here was someone who not only knew about it but also had advice on how to proceed once I was done.

I asked her if she also would also help me edit my work and, before I knew it, I was a member of the Writing Gym. I discovered that Annalisa offers a number of programs to help aspiring writers complete their books and get them published.

We worked on the anthology, editing it and bringing it up to a publishable standard. In the meantime, she also encouraged me to continue with the short stories, resulting in another three completed anthologies, and three more anthology WIPs (Works In Progress for those who don’t like acronyms) that are offshoots of the original four. I’ve also written two versions of a novel and begun another. In addition, the blocked novel is now halfway completed (it’s going to be an epic).

The first book of the anthology was rejected by various agents and publishers on the grounds that anthologies are seldom good break-out works to start a publishing career with. Annalisa and I sat together at last year’s Writers’ Retreat and discussed the problem. We decided to take two short stories I had written and to use them as the basis of an episodic science fiction novel.

Over the next couple of months (Annalisa offers a course to help you complete your novel in eight weeks), I wrote the remaining chapters and was ready for editing.

During the editing phase, Annalisa read the book and made suggestions to improve the story while encouraging me to develop my voice. Since this was the second time around for me, editing went much better. I had learnt so much about the writing process working with Annalisa on the anthology that there were few corrections necessary. Most of our work was developmental editing, finding and correcting plot holes, foreshadowing, linking back to earlier events, improving dialogs, etc.

She also helped with my abiding sin: Britishisms, as she calls them. I tend to use words and phrases that are unique to British English, which could limit American sales.

The Answer?

Perhaps the answer for you might be the same as mine; talk to someone.

It’s easy enough to book a call with Annalisa. It will last about 45 minutes to an hour. You can discuss your problems with her. She might be able to help you, or at least, point you in the right direction.

And if you are invited to join the Writing Gym, who knows? We might meet one day at one of the Gym’s online get-togethers.

Or even at a book signing.

Writing Gym member Stephen Oliver wrote this piece while on the Writing Gym in England retreat. You can learn more about him here.

The Book That Others Will Read

The Book That Others Will Read

The Book That Others Will Read

By Writing Gym Alumnus Brendan Thompson

I first got into writing on the conviction that I am a creative person with stories to tell. I have never surrendered that conviction, but in the following thirty years I have taken a lot of time to reflect on what kind of stories I have to tell. I have done quite a bit of living in that time, which has given me a lot more material to work with. I have read some fantastic books, visited some remarkable places, and known some amazing people. The richness of those experiences has continually added to my ideas for stories.

But it’s not just about having ideas. Any long time writer will tell you about the book they got halfway through writing, driven by the strength of its unique and compelling idea, only to see the project fizzle out and remain unfinished. However intriguing and compelling and alluring the idea was, it wasn’t a story. And in order to see the book through to the end, there had to be a story.

Let’s move forward, out of the 1990’s, through the 2010’s and up to the present day. I had assembled an oeuvre of around a million words. I had an outsized, grand, opulent, sprawling world of stories. I took my best work, a gunpowder fantasy epic, and walked it over to Annalisa Parent and her program, The Writing Gym.

It’s a scary thing to go from writing for yourself to showing your work to professionals. It’s one thing to put your work in front of friends and family. I had done that. It’s one thing to engage other writers to trade work, reading each others’ manuscripts in exchange for notes. I had done that, as well. But to put your work in the hands of a professional writing coach, a literary agent, or an editor, is an experience of an altogether different magnitude.

I will always maintain that a good writer writes first and foremost for themselves. That’s how you get started, moving ideas into stories. But selling your work requires moving your stories out of your own collection and into a market. You are asking people to pay money to read your stories. There has to be something in it for them.

Being a professional, Annalisa spared no time getting me deep, specific feedback that required extensive rewriting of my novel’s first fifty pages. Fantastic. That level of editorial interaction is what I had signed on for. It was a double edged sword, to be sure. It’s great to have good notes for rewriting, but it’s not great to have the task of rewriting. It’s great to find solutions to fix underlying problems, but that requires finding underlying problems. And you don’t want to find problems in your manuscript.

It’s natural to recoil in horror at the suggestion that you didn’t craft the best possible story on your first draft. Professional writers with massive followings still get those notes from editors, and they rewrite their works accordingly. It’s not a foolproof process, but it is a process that improves the work. Ideas move through the writer into stories, which move back and forth from the writer to the editor, becoming more and more refined, transforming into stories that are more comprehensible, more relatable, more gripping, engaging, and effective.

I found Annalisa asking me, with some reluctance, if I would go back to page one and start the process over. Completely optional, mind you, no pressure, but still her professional recommendation. Would I mind bending the narrative more in the direction she was pushing for, and doing it for the reasons that she had outlined? And here is what I told her.

I already know the version of this story that is most for me. I had already revised and reordered and recapitulated the narrative a hundred times, shifting the perspectives of who was telling the story, experimenting with the order of events, and who did what to who and who was the witness to it. A hundred variations on the story I was crafting. And through that, I already had a hundred different versions of the story in my head, understanding the possibilities that are so tantalizing and exciting in this world that I have created.

That is not what I want to publish. I want to publish traditionally and for a wide audience. That means continuing the revision and the crafting of the story, refining its very carefully calibrated inner workings to find the version that appeals to a target audience, a core of readers who will engage with the book, fall in love with it, and recommend it to their friends. I want to get beyond the story that is only for me, and get to the story that is for them.

So, write for yourself. That’s the only way to get started. When you are comfortable showing your work to others, go right ahead and do it. You might even get published right away, and if you do, congratulations are in order. For the rest of us, the next thing to do is to write some more. And start revising. Revise everything. Keep writing, and then revise that. And as you keep growing and developing and finding your voice, engage with literary professionals and get their feedback, and put it to use, and further grow yourself and keep improving your writing.

What you will find, whether gradually or suddenly, is that you are no longer dealing in ideas. Every time you sit down to write, you craft a story. You think in terms of story, and you can’t create in any other way. And when you revise, you will revise in terms of story, and you won’t have any other way to do a revision.

And you will find, as if by magic, that nothing you write, no matter how personal, is ever just for you. Not any more. You will be preparing yourself for the life of a professional writer, preparing to write for your readers.

Brendan Thompson is a writer and alumnus of the Writing Gym. His film, Bae Wolf, will be available in March.

Resonate with what Brendan says? I help writers to transition from the art of writing into the business of publishing. This is what I do to help people publish and get the representation they need. If you are ready to accept what the guidelines are and are ready to sell your book, let’s chat.

Finding the Inspiration and Courage That Leads to Multiple Genre Success

Finding the Inspiration and Courage That Leads to Multiple Genre Success

Finding the Inspiration and Courage that leads to Multiple Genre Success

This is a transcript of the Writing Gym Podcast. To listen to the full episode, click here.

Today’s Writing Gym Podcast guest is Cristina Istrati. She writes in multiple genres–which is pretty amazing–and we asked her to share her writing process and inspiration with us.

Many writers have dreams of getting published. In Cristina’s case her dream came from a literal dream!

“I’d like to think it’s a bit unusual,” Cristina started, “How I started writing was actually through a dream that I had back in August 2007. ​I just dreamt myself writing books and that was it. The next day, I just grabbed a pen and some sheets and just started writing and the result of that was my first novel.​ I published it in 2009. This is how I started and like I said, I am working on my third novel in my series and I am so excited about it.”

It’s really a magical thing–to follow that impulse, that dream. And look where Cristina is now. She’s a published and award-winning writer. How did winning an award immediately after her debut novel impact her writing life? 

“I never expected it but I was very happy. The first thing is that it keeps you confident and it also stimulates you to keep going, to keep working on your stories, and to keep writing. Because at the end of the day this is what it is all about. Winning an award was a stimulation for me. I didn’t let it change me or anything a little bit close to arrogant or anything close to that, no, I kept working on my novels and I didn’t allow it to let it influence me in any negative way.”

I then asked Cristina about feedback. One of the things that I talk about a lot is the difference between the creative process and the revision process. They’re two very different functions. When we’re in the creative process, it’s really important not to let that feedback in or for that feedback to only be positive feedback. 

“When I was writing the first novel I didn’t get any feedback. I was so into writing; I was absorbed by the story and the characters and what I was doing there that it didn’t even cross my mind to actually ask a friend to read through it. I just went for it, wrote the book, and published it at the end. That was it. 

You never know–maybe somebody would’ve told me they didn’t like the story or it’s boring, or something like that and that might have discouraged me​ a bit. So, I’m happy that I didn’t ask for feedback from anybody. I just did it on my own.”

This is a really valuable tip for writers–like Cristina, writers must know when it’s time to let that feedback in or when it’s time to just really be in that creative zone. 

But what about after winning her award–did it change her writing process? 

“I had some fellow writers read my second novel but, somehow, I didn’t like their feedback. I didn’t take it personally because f​eedback is not about that. You just listen to what the other person is saying and if something resonates with you then you take it. That’s pretty much it. A writer should never take it personally.​ It’s not about the writer; it’s about the work itself. Feedback should only be looked at as pure feedback.

“What I didn’t like about their feedback was that they were too general. It was like they were talking about a different novel. I realized I just needed to follow my own intuition and to not give anyone the manuscript anymore, before it gets published. I wanted to follow my own gut feeling–both in writing and when it comes to feedback as well.”

Cristina’s talk about intuition resonated the most with me. Many writers get so wrapped up in what they’re writing and many get into this self-doubt, always asking themselves: “Is this right? I don’t know.” It makes such a difference when they start to believe in themselves and their writing. When writers get feedback, they mustn’t take it personally–much like what Cristina shared. 

As writers, we must be confident about the message we are putting out into the world. I know what is right for my book and I know that’s what I’m doing. How did Cristina develop her strong sense of writing intuition? 

“This may sound arrogant–and I totally understand if that’s the way it comes across–but when I see what I am writing, when I see the product of my work, I just feel confident about it and I don’t know where this confidence comes from. When there is something so, so strong and so,so beautiful about the story, it cannot be something random. That keeps me confident.”

“A writer’s story and characters are one. The minute the writer enters their room and starts writing, they become one with the novel and with everything else that is inside the novel. It’s like a universe. When you create something so strong and you feel like it is a part of you, and a part of your soul and heart, how can you not be confident and know? It’s twisting, I cannot understand this but this is what I feel.”

Definitely a unique perspective but one that I appreciate very much. There’s a different type of confidence that comes from the power of our piece–different from when we win awards and other things. Where we are writing has its own life, its own energy, and its own confidence. If writers are really listening to their piece and have faith in their piece, then there is a different kind of confidence that can overcome their impostor syndrome. 

“I think one of the reasons why writers aren’t so confident in themselves is because the media created many limiting concepts about the writing industry and one of of them is that you can’t make a living as a writer,” Cristina shared, “From my point of view, as long as the writers is 1000% committed, there is nothing they cannot achieve in terms of the writing career. There is no limit to what a writer can achieve as long as they are themselves, their journey, and their writing.” 

Resonating and true is something that I also believe in. At the Writing Gym, we have created a group of wonderful writers who are committed to their craft, who get feedback from published and award-winning authors like Cristina. I asked Cristina if a program like this had been available when she was just starting out, would it have been something she was interested in doing? 

“Any help is more than welcome–especially at the beginning. At the beginning every writer should get as much help as possible. That’s a bit of a critical point when the writer just starts out, the confidence is not so big. But if the passion–a really burning passion, the kind that wakes you up at night and compels you to write–is there then that is enough. If this confidence is not there, my advice for writers is to follow the passion, to make their passion a substitute for the confidence. As they hold on to that passion they have for writing, the confidence will make its way, too.”

Some people are born writers in the same way that some are born musicians or basketball players. But the rest of us humans on Earth, we have to work at the process over time, unless we are a true prodigy–and that’s okay. It’s part of the process to learn and to get quality feedback and to learn the skills that we need. 

Yet, even those naturally born writers, musicians, athletes all have to show up and do the work too. It goes for any kind of gift that people have.

As I mentioned before, Cristina writes in multiple genres. “It was very interesting for me to see that I could actually switch from romance to children’s stories and then I wrote mystery stories. I think it is a good thing for a writer to play with genres if they have the ability to, because then they wouldn’t be caged into one particular genre. I highly recommend that other writers try to write in other genres. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a masterpiece, it’s an exercise to see what will work and it’s helped me polish my writing skills and gave me that extra confidence.

 

“Another great benefit is that it nourishes your imagination. For me, at least, I get bored writing in one genre. I want more excitement, adventure, and switching from one genre to another really keeps things exciting for me.”

Cristina shared another amazing takeaway–the energy of the writer comes through the book and becomes absorbed by the reader. “The writer needs to be at his best. When he is writing, he needs to be bubbling with creative energy. That will be felt in his things.”

Lastly, I asked Cristina if she had one piece of advice for writers just starting out writing and struggling with it.

“Firstly, identify what you love to write about. It’s important to play with genres a bit in the beginning and see which one first you best. Without that certainty, you cannot write. And from here comes the lack of confidence. Figure out what genre first for you like a glove and just off and follow that. The more you write, the more you want to write and the more the passion will grow. This will give you confidence and you’ll want to keep doing that.” 

Well, there you go–the lovely advice for aspiring authors. Just identify what you love to write about and follow your intuition. Take the time to play with genres, figure it out, find your niche, and your calling, and all doubts will fade away. 

Until next time. Happy writing.

This is a transcript of the Writing Gym Podcast. To listen to the full episode, click here

Writing Workshop – How To Overcome The fear & Write (with Janiel Miller)

Writing Workshop – How To Overcome The fear & Write (with Janiel Miller)

NEXT on The Write to PUBLISH publishability series
December 21, 3 PM EST.

Top tips from successful authors on how to publish.

This series is FREE, but you MUST register. See below.

In this course: Writer and Humorist Janiel Miller will discuss her top tips for overcoming fear and getting the writing DONE!

Registration URL: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_24QPjNNyRpS4fimy1OytjA

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