Skywriting

by Alice Winston Carney


Alice for bio 3Writing is like being in the pilot’s seat of my single engine airplane, trying to recover from a stall, the ground rushing faster and faster towards me.

The flying lesson starts well. I am in the pilot’s seat; Eric, my instructor, beside me.  I taxi onto the runway, call the tower, “8330X-ray, ready for take off”, loving the sound of my confident, female voice.

I give the engine full power, pull back on the controls when the speed reaches 70 knots. The little plane rises off the runway into the clear California sky. I level the plane, execute a smooth turn, reporting to the tower, “8330X-ray at 1500 feet, turning right, heading towards Tahoe.”

Below us the green and yellow agricultural fields checker their way across the great San Joaquin Valley, bisected by the American and Sacramento Rivers. All the world is blue, gold, and deep green as we head towards the foothills, Folsom Lake a sparkling dot below us.

Then Eric says, “Reduce power to engine, pull back on the controls,” two acts that go against logic when you are 2000 feet above the ground in a small tin can.

“Time to practice stalls.”

My pounding heart overpowers all sound, color drains from around me. “No!” I want out of this airplane.

But I am training as a pilot. I must learn to fly in all situations. I cut power to the engine. We float through the sky in an eerie quiet. My hands sweating, I pull back on the controls, raising the nose of the airplane until all I can see is sky. The nose goes up, up, then gives a dip down. A warning buzzer goes off. I have put us into a stall.

“Push the controls in, fast,” commands Eric. This is the third, most illogical step. Pushing the controls in, away from me, aims us towards the ground, causes the airplane to gather speed, dive, straight at the tree tops and rocks.

“Push, push,” Eric, yells. “Keep the wings level.”

As I write this, many years later, my fingers quiver on the keyboard, my breathing is shallow, and my stomach lurches. I remember the fear as I pushed the controls fully forward, forcing the plane faster and faster towards the earth. All I wanted to do was let go, to have Eric take over, to be out of there.

To quit.

But I stayed with the airplane. As our speed increased, Eric said, “Pull back, nose up. Watch the wings. Give it full power.” I did. And there we were, flying level, the engine purring, the wings lifted by a cushion of air and motion, Folsom Lake blinking its blue eye up at us. Only then did I feel the dampness on the back of my shirt, the sweat flowing down my sides. Only then did I breathe.

This is how I feel about writing some days: that I can’t write; that I don’t know how to write; that if I do write, the words will fly out of control and I will be hurtling towards the earth; that I want out of the desire to write.

I have learned that if I hold on, keep writing through that fear, I will level out again, I will go to a place that teaches me lessons about myself and fear. Writing is the lift under my wings, navigates me through the huge blue sky to where I want to go. Writing can make me as proud as I was when I became a pilot.


Cowgirl cover72Alice Winston Carney is director of Hermit’s Peak Press, which publishes original voices of Northern New Mexico. In 2010, she published A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, a memoir of growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along with the authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman, Alice runs the annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas. You can visit Alice at greenriverwritersworkshop.com and on her Facebook page: greenriverwritersworkshop.


This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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Use NaNoWriMo to Meet Your Nonfiction Writing Goals

NaNoWriMo CrestHave you met your writing goals for the year? No motivation, no writing routine? It’s almost the end of the year – are you thinking, “Why bother now?”

No more excuses. Now is the perfect time. And meeting your goals, getting motivated, and starting a writing routine are perfect reasons to try National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. Join hundreds of thousands of writers who dive into a writing frenzy beginning November 1st with the goal of finishing a 50,000-word draft by midnight on the 30th.

“But…but I’m not writing a novel,” you say.

No problem.

Be a Rebel

Don’t let the term “rebel” scare you off. Some rules just beg to be broken. According to WikiWriMo.org:

A NaNo Rebel is a NaNoWriMo participant who chooses to write something besides a novel of at least 50,000 words from scratch in November. Some NaNo rebels choose to continue a novel…while others wander into the worlds of nonfiction, video games, scripts, and academic writing.

Use NaNoWriMo to suit your project. Memoir. How-to book. Personal essays. A year of blog posts. If you have one or more nonfiction projects you’ve been busting to start or finish, then becoming a NaNo Rebel is for you. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a huge accomplishment and one to be proud of, even if it’s not the draft of a novel as NaNo was originally intended.

Joining NaNoWriMo is Easy, and Free

Sign up here, define your novel (as a Rebel, ignore the term “novel”), and start writing on November 1st. Whether you reach 50K words or not, you are eligible for sponsor offers as a participant, such as Scrivener at 20% off. If you want to be eligible for winner offers (50% off Scrivener, for example), validate the word count of your “novel” by November 30th.

Along with perks at the end, you’ll get plenty of encouragement along the way with pep talks, writing resources, forums, and virtual write-ins. And you’ll have the chance to meet other participants and attend “real” write-in events (check out your region for these).

Two Undisputed Rules

Whether you win NaNoWriMo the traditional way by writing the draft of a novel or by going the Rebel route and breaking the rules, follow these two unofficial rules to reach your goal:

  • Just Write (to watch your word count soar), and
  • Don’t Stop to Edit. The goal is a first draft in thirty days. You’ll have plenty of time to edit later.

Still on the Fence?

  • Find out more about NaNoWriMo on this page, including its nonprofit status, mission statement, and a list of published WriMos.
  • Check out this NaNo forum for Rebels.

Be a Rebel – finish the draft of your nonfiction project this year!


If November doesn’t work for you, plan to join Camp NaNoWriMo in April and/or July (see “Accomplish Your Writing Goals with Camp NaNoWriMo“).

Mary Haarmeyer Talks Screenwriting, Part II

I ran out of time today and thought I’d reblog this interview from my other website. Mary Haarmeyer is a producer, director and screenwriter who lives in Lovington, New Mexico — she’s also a gracious and down-to-earth person who genuinely cares about others. If you like this second part of her interview, please click on the link in the introduction to read part one.

KL Wagoner

Producer, director, and writer Mary Haarmeyer continues her discussion of screenwriting in this second of a two-part interview. Mary has won awards for her scripts since 2007, including first place in the screenplay category of the 2010 SouthWest Writers Annual Writing Competition. Active in the workings of ReelFlicks Productions and T-RO Films, she is currently in post-production of Hunter’s Game, a paranormal/thriller television pilot filmed in New Mexico. Find out more about the series at www.huntersgame.tv and more about Mary and the crew on the T-RO website at www.t-rofilms.com. Click here to read the first part of this interview.
Hunter's Game - Poster2How did producing and directing Hunter’s Game differ from your previous projects?
With this project I wanted to give other striving artists a chance to succeed as well. I’ve been a successful business owner for 29 years and have always been able to figure ways around obstacles. With film, you must…

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Advice for Authors from Seth Godin

Seth Godin is the author of 17 bestselling books that have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of squidoo.com and The Domino Project. I’ve been following his blog for several years, and I appreciate his insight into business, marketing, and leadership and his passion for trying to change things, especially how our thoughts and actions affect others.

Word Cloud Advice for Authors1In the introduction to the reposting of his two-part article “Advice for Authors,” Mr. Godin says, “If you’re an author or an aspiring author…it’s time to end the fruitless struggle with a dying business model and think hard about how the world has changed.” The following is the second part of his article – though it was originally written in 2006, it’s still relevant to the current author and publishing landscape.


Advice for Authors by Seth Godin

It happened again. There I was, meeting with someone who I thought had nothing to do with books or publishing, and it turns out his new book just came out.

With more than 75,000 books published every year (not counting ebooks or blogs) [over 292,000 U.S. titles in 2012], the odds are actually pretty good that you’ve either written a book, are writing a book or want to write one.

Hence this short list:

1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much.

2. The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.

3. Pay for an eidtor editor. Not just to fix the typos, but to actually make your ramblings into something that people will choose to read. I found someone I like working with at the EFA. One of the things traditional publishers used to do is provide really insightful, even brilliant editors (people like Fred Hills and Megan Casey), but alas, that doesn’t happen very often. And hiring your own editor means you’ll value the process more.

4. Understand that a non-fiction book is a souvenir, just a vessel for the ideas themselves. You don’t want the ideas to get stuck in the book, you want them to spread. Which means that you shouldn’t hoard the idea! The more you give away, the better you will do.

5. Don’t try to sell your book to everyone. First, consider this: “58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.” Then, consider the fact that among people even willing to buy a book, yours is just a tiny little needle in a very big haystack. Far better to obsess about a little subset of the market – that subset that you have permission to talk with, that subset where you have credibility, and most important, that subset where people just can’t live without your book.

6. Resist with all your might the temptation to hire a publicist to get you on Oprah. First, you won’t get on Oprah (if you do, drop me a note and I’ll mention you as the exception). Second, it’s expensive. You’re way better off spending the time and money to do #5 instead, going after the little micromarkets. There are some very talented publicists out there (thanks, Allison), but in general, see #1.

7. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a “real” publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it’s promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart’s couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using POD or a small run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people.

8. Your cover matters. Way more than you think. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t need a book, you could just email people the text.

9. If you have a “real” publisher (#7), it’s worth investing in a few things to help them do a better job for you. Like pre-editing the book before you submit it. Like putting the right to work on the cover with them in the contract. And most of all, getting the ability to buy hundreds of books at cost that you can use as samples and promotional pieces.

10. In case you skipped it, please check #2 again. That’s the most important one, by far.

11. Blurbs are overrated, imho.

12. Blog mentions, on the other hand, matter a lot.

13. If you’ve got the patience, bookstore signings and talking to book clubs by phone are the two lowest-paid but most guaranteed to work methods you have for promoting a really really good book. If you do it 200 times a year, it will pay.

14. Consider the free PDF alternative. Some have gotten millions of downloads. No hassles, no time wasted, no trying to make a living on it. All the joy, in other words, without debating whether you should quit your day job (you shouldn’t!).

15. If you want to reach people who don’t normally buy books, show up in places where people who don’t usually buy books are. Media places, virtual places and real places, too.

16. Most books that sell by the truckload sell by the caseload. In other words, sell to organizations that buy on behalf of their members/employees.

17. Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book. Publishing is about marketing and sales and distribution and risk. If you don’t want to be in that business, don’t! Printing a book is trivially easy. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You’ll find plenty of printers who can match the look and feel of the bestselling book of your choice for just a few dollars a copy. That’s not the hard part.

18. Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it’s way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn’t made, no sale.

19. Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.

Handling Writing Rejection

RejectedStamp2Freelance writer and storyteller Peter D. Mallett recently stated that everyone identifies with three things: failure, hard times, and rejection. The response to his post “Receiving and Rising above Rejection” was greater than any article he’s written for his website Writing in Color and demonstrates how deeply we all identify with being rejected. For a two-part followup to that post, Peter asked four writers, including myself, specific questions about the topic as it pertains to our writing projects.

In part one of “Rejection Revisited,” Erica Hayes, a copywriter, and Deanne Schultz, a freelance writer, were asked how they push through the fear of rejection and how they handle rejection when it does come. Their wise and practical advice shows why they’re successful professionals in their field.

In part two, Jillian Lisa Pearl, a writer working on her debut novel, addresses the issue of depersonalizing rejection and her positive plan to deal with it. For my part, I was asked: Even today, what is your first gut reaction when you receive a rejection? What happens next, and how do you move forward? My response to handling rejection almost always involves copious amounts of Cheetos, peanuts, and ice cream.

To find out more about how the four of us deal with rejection in our writing life, please check out Writing in Color and Peter D. Mallett’s articles on the subject.

How do you handle rejection or the fear of it?

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Image “Rejected Stamp” courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 Things I Learned From WANA Con 2014

WANAConFeb2014-300x162WANA (We Are Not Alone) is an organization started by Kristen Lamb as a way for creative people to connect with each other to serve and support one another. WANA Con, their annual online two-day writing conference (in February), offered plenty of encouragement, as well as classes that focused on topics ranging from character development, scene structure, and self editing to social media and website building – all at a cost far less than a “real” conference, and much more convenient.

I attended WANA Con 2014 wearing sweats and slippers, with a bowl of popcorn and a cold soda within reach, expecting it to be a good experience. But it ended up being a great one. Here are ten of the best take-aways from this year’s online conference:

1. Jami Gold: An Introvert’s Guide to Twitter
“First, let’s accept publishing guru Dan Blank’s challenge to not define ourselves as an introvert simply for a blanket excuse to avoid being social. As he points out, we can respect the ways we’re introverted while still taking social actions. Our introversion is a starting point for finding methods that work for us, not an excuse to avoid all social activities.”

2. Marcy Kennedy: Put Your Inner Editor to Work: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
A main character must be interesting and likeable – but just because you’ve written an interesting character doesn’t mean you’ve written a likeable one. “Your main character needs to be interesting enough that a reader wants to spend 10+ hours with them…The reader also needs to like them OR pity them OR want to see them get what they deserve.”

3. Marcy Kennedy: Put Your Inner Editor to Work: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers
A story needs an antagonist, but the antagonist is not necessarily a villain. “A villain is evil. An antagonist is just someone who’s standing in the way of your main character achieving their goal. You must have an antagonist. A villain is optional.”

4. Gilbert Clay and Stacy Brewer: PDMI Editorial Presentation
Writers have long been advised to know the rules before they break them. We also need to have good reasons to do so. Know the following before breaking the rules: what effect it will have on the story; if it will help tell a better story; how will it affect the reader’s experience. Just because a well-known author breaks the rules, doesn’t mean all writers should.

5. Ellie Ann Soderstrom: Collaboration Station
If you’re working with others to produce your book, it’s not a good thing to “defend your manuscript the way a mother bear defends her cubs. Your book is a gift, not a baby. If you want to write for yourself then keep it to yourself. If you want to write for others then give it to a trusted editor.”

6. Julie Duffy and Gabriela Pereira: Rock Your Revision
Rocking your revision starts with Character as Cornerstone – “get your character in place and trigger the domino effect.” Keys to a strong central character: an ordinary person who becomes extraordinary; a defining characteristic; the most interesting character in the story; must want something and need something (not necessarily the same thing).

7. Lisa Hall-Wilson: Beyond Basics: How to Write Effective Inner Dialogue
Internal dialogue is an indirect method of description. “That is, the writer does not directly describe a person, scene or event, but rather processes the description through the character’s consciousness. Once we enter a character’s internal world, we must consider how the character’s consciousness filters the description and shapes the telling of the tale.” ~ Word Painting

8. Shirley Jump: Writing the Compelling Scene
There are two types of scene goals:
♦ The Author’s Goal • What do you want to accomplish in this scene? • How will doing this change your reader’s perception of your character? • How will doing this increase the tension? • How can you accomplish your goals while showing (not telling) and using action instead of passive events?
♦ The Character’s Goal • What does the point of view character want in this scene? • What is so important about achieving this goal? • What will the POV character sacrifice in order to obtain this goal? • What actions will the POV character take to achieve this goal?

9. Sandra Brannan: Jumping Into Bed Between Explosions & A Firestorm of Bullets
Elements of plot can be found in CHOKE:
♦ Concern – Do I care? – Through belief in, and feelings for, the characters and understanding their conflicts.
Heighten Tension – The plot thickens: handicap your characters; aggravate, confuse, complicate; master the twists; readers need to be embroiled in conflict
Overload the Senses – Create crisis at the peak (“Oh, no!” and “Ah-ha!” moments), readers want to be surprised without feeling duped
Kill Switch – Explain the outcome (wind down the engine and let it cool off); readers want to see and feel the pieces being tied together, and suspension of unbelief but not the unbelievable
Ending – Tie up all the loose ends; readers should feel rewarded, satiated (best dinner date ever: good company, great food, didn’t overeat, no rush); leave readers craving the next book

10. J. E. Fishman – 8 Ways Nonfiction Colors Fiction
Research does not lend your story conflict, give your story structure, illustrate your protagonist’s moral dilemma, or shape your story arc (but fictional elements do). Nonfiction: Gives us a geography to borrow; Provides historical context; Provides social context; Leverages known stakes; Educates us and lends authority; Provides real-life characters to ground us; Reinforces theme; Builds a point of departure for real-life outcomes

WANA Con also offers attendees the chance to be credited for their conference fee through a giveaway. This year I was thrilled to be one of three people whose names were picked at random to receive this credit (which I promptly applied to other writerly odds and ends).

One of the best things about the conference was the reminder that I am not alone on this writer’s journey. I hope you’ll consider attending the next WANA Online Conference – I know I’ll be there.

Do you wanna be a part of WANA Tribes? Click here.

Have you attended a WANA Con before? If so, what did you learn?

Support Your Favorite Writer

Help and SupportIn honor of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and all my fellow writers in the world, I want to make an appeal to those who know and/or love a writer – please be patient, kind, and supportive. Writing is hard work.

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing. That you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones about and come down in the morning with a story. But it isn’t like that. You sit in the back with a typewriter and you work. That’s all there is to it. ~ Harlan Ellison

Fiction writing is a complicated endeavor that takes both logic and creativity. The logical bit of brain arranges sentences into paragraphs into chapters, evaluates consistency, studies and amasses research, edits and critiques. The creative part of the writer’s mind builds complicated plots and subplots, constructs believable characters and motives, creates whole new worlds or presents the known world in a whole new way, and produces flowing verse. Somehow everything fits together in the end and keeps the reader engaged.

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. ~ Oscar Wilde

Non-writers may not know that their writer-friends sweat over nearly every word choice in their manuscripts. So many words, so many similar meanings. What will evoke the right emotion, set the desired mood? Too simple, too obscure, cliché? And then there’s the feel and the cadence of words strung together that must be considered.

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping. ~ Kristen Lamb

The next time you observe your writer-spouse communing with the sky or lounging in bed longer than you think she should or staring at the computer screen without seeming to do anything in particular, realize creativity is still at work even when there’s no proof of it. Mulling over plot points, following a character through a scene, envisioning a setting or a world – these invisible story-building exercises engage a writer’s imagination long before the entire story makes it onto the page.

I think the writing journey is one of fits and starts . . . good days and bad days . . . times where you know you’ve nailed it and times when you wonder what ever made you think you can write. This is normal! This is why everyone always says it’s a tough road. Half the battle is dealing with your own mental and emotional responses to your situation. ~ Rachelle Gardner

Every writer I know, and many multi-published veterans I’ve heard speak, suffer from self-doubt to some degree regarding their writing. One writer might excel with setting and developing mood but struggles with character development. Another writes multi-faceted characters and awesome settings, yet he can’t come up with a storyline that goes the distance. Writers want their stories to shine, but the stories don’t always live up to a writer’s hopes and expectations. It could be a skewed perspective or perfectionism at work. It might be fear of failure. Or it could be that the writer simply needs to spend more time on his craft, or the current project, to reach that magical place of “It is Done.” Whatever the reason for doubt, the struggle is real.

The truth is, writing is hard work.

So please be kind to your writer friends and family members, especially those working on first drafts, whether under a self-imposed deadline like NaNoWriMo or that of a publisher. Encourage these writers when they doubt themselves and their abilities. Offer to help with errands. Bring them chocolate chip cookies for sustenance. And remember, supporting your local writer could mean the difference between ending up as a serial killer or a hero in her next novel.