Monday, June 25, 2012

Writing Creatively

I’ve been a member of a writing group, the Write Sisters, for close to six years. Although we started out with 12 members, within a couple of months the group had dwindled to four determined writers. We meet once a month on a Sunday morning and constructively critique each other’s work. Surrounding myself with other writers who have a passion for writing has definitely helped me become a better writer.

One of the best writers I know happens to be a member of my writing group whose prose has an innate literary flair. Adrienne Byers is a former journalist turned lawyer by day and writer by night.  What makes her so good? The word “cliché” does not exist in her world. When you read her work, you’ll find descriptions that you won’t see any place else. Her verbs are always active and unique. Her prose entices you to feel, smell and taste a scene. I’ve asked Adrienne to share some tips on how she does it.

What advice would you give to a writer who seeks to infuse more creativity into their prose?

You must love words, period. 

1. Roll them around on your tongue, spin them. They are the conveyor belt between our mind's eye and the reader's imagination. I strive to create vibrant, striking and memorable analogies and similes in my descriptions.  It's where I feel freest to be the most creative.

2. Use (or a hard copy dictionary) to learn a new word a day; think of how that word can be woven into your story. Some words may be too arcane or unknowable to fit into your writing style; but some will become gems that you may  subconsciously later infuse into your work. 

 3. Possibly more important: Keep a thesaurus handy (yes,; and Visual Thesaurus is pretty cool),  even for the most banal words like “walk”, “look”, “ate,” “dog”, “car” – etc.  I call these the “gut-reaction” words.  The first word which comes to your mind may only be the roadmap, not the final destination. In perusing a thesaurus, you not only spy new words, but consider how a synonym, in the first concept you felt, is actually more descriptive than your gut-reaction word.  A thesaurus can help you parse through the subtle connotations and inferences of five different words which mean generally the same thing, but convey slightly different images and tone. Then you’ll move into the “feel” of what you want the reader to have…is it “he walked into the room”?  Or did he “amble” into it? And make no mistake: the more synonyms you become familiar with the larger your arsenal when writing!

 4.  Be a collector of powerful verbs.  Verbs stab. They hunt. They core. They delve.  They shape. They shift.  In one powerful movement, they can transport your description of the ordinary into its rightful territory inside your theme and deliver powerful imagery with a minimum of gab. Think of them and treasure them as your foot soldiers, around a base of well-selected adjectives and nouns, and sparingly used adverbs. Know and get to know more verbs.

5.  As writers, it’s our job to perceive and then describe the ordinary in an unordinary way. Taking a beginner’s photography class in college helped me see things like a photographer— the way a line of shadows falls through the trees at a certain time; a sleeping dog’s two rear paws jutting out of the dog-bed covers; the rippling reflection of a building mirrored in the lake. In other words, you must be observant! Use your five senses constantly, in a concerted focused exercise, as you go about your day. How would you describe that tree? Is it bent? How thick is it? What type of flowers does it have? What else could you compare the tree with? Is its bark thick and grooved like a crocodile’s back?  Stop reading this blog for two minutes, look around you, and find something common to describe. Then describe it uncommonly.

Do your creative descriptions flow naturally with no effort or do you have to sit there and think them up?

Both.  Sometimes, I'm channeling. And when I’m in the zone, I’m flowing, not picking up a dictionary, thesaurus, stopping to think or evaluate, I’m just gone—words flowing, with the scene visualized in my mind and fingers hitting the keys. Ten, 20 pages easy.  I think the more you read, the more you are exposed to and learn a wealth of writing techniques which blend into your own style and voice. I only wish I was in “channel” mode every day!!!

On the other hand, sometimes I’m stumped, staring at the computer, reaching for my Thesaurus.  I’m looking for different ways to nail a description of something—to make it snap on a sensory, thematic, and emotional level. I need to know what I want to feel and imagine—grisly, sensual, foreboding, relaxed, tense, warm, etc., then go for it.  I try never to settle for the mundane.

Any books or other resources that you would recommend?

Because I've been an avid reader of fiction, poetry and books/magazines on writing for so long, I've amassed a lot of resources!  Here are a few that pop to mind this instant; ask me tomorrow and I'd have 10 more.

  1. The Elements of Style, Strunk & White.
  2. The Careful Writer, A Modern Guide To English Usage, Bernstein
  3. The Longman Practical Stylist
  4. Keep an internet thread going to Writer’s Digest and The Writer, or better yet, subscribe. Stay motivated on how others approach writing, and what they have accomplished. The articles on writing techniques are helpful too.
  5. Read the books you want to write.  Highlight the tag lines, analogies, similes, metaphors and other components of descriptions that hit you. Analyze why they hit you and what they invoked in your imagination  The following books were helpful as a resource to me as a writer, or contain an array of highlights because of phenomenally creative description:
Stephen King’s “On Writing.”  And King's short stories, novellas and most of his novels.  Start with The Stand or It.  He's sold a gazillion books for a reason. 
Walter Mosley’s “This Year You Write Your Novel.”  And Mosley's E.Z  Rawlins series.  Superb dialogue, tone and description are always a constant.
All of the Vampire Huntress series by the late, fabulous L.A. Banks.
She could describe the most fantastical realms so that you envisioned every detail! 

     Octavia Butler – anything.  Wild Seed might be my favorite. 

     Toni Morrison – anything.  Re-read Sula and Song of Solomon. 

     Gargoyle by first-time novelist Andrew Davidson.  Astonishing.  

     Queen of Darkness, Celia Gilbert. Poetry, with compelling and imaginative

     Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.  I read the book 30 years ago. I still remember a  
     description  (and this won’t be verbatim), but: “A hand, like a starfish, appeared
     on the car’s window.” Visual stuff.  Not difficult, when you look at a starfish and
     compare it to a human hand. But visual, nonetheless. That’s what you are striving
     for—putting that image in the reader’s mind which will never be quelled, or
Adrienne Byers is a Los Angeles litigation attorney whose current creative focus is on speculative-supernatural fiction.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Author Gary Phillips Shares His Writing Process

One of the coolest things about being a writer is meeting other writers. I recently connected with one of my writing buddies, Gary Phillips of Monkology fame (and way too many other mystery novels, comic books and short stories to name). Without having to twist his arm, cry or beg (he’s that kind of guy), Gary agreed to share how he tackles the writing process.  After you read his tips, make sure you check out his massive body of work at

Gary’s Writing Process
My writing process varies depending on what it is I’m writing.  That is, for a novel I’ll outline the main segments, telling the story in sequential order from beginning to end.  Now even before I’ve done this I might have written on a notepad who the main characters are and something about their backstory—who are they, what’s in their background that’s shaped them before we meet them in the story I’m writing.  This seems to really help me ground the characters, give me a sense of what they’ll talk like, how they’ll react in certain situations. 

 My goal then is 1,000 to 1,200 words a day.  Some days the words flow like magic from my fingers, and other days it’s as if I’m using a hammer and chisel to slowly carve each one in a stone tablet like a scribe on the Flintstones.

In writing the novel I usually write 50 to 60 pages, stop, re-read, rewrite and edit those pages then go forward.  I’ll halt again at the next 50-60 pages, repeat the previous steps, then again continue writing the book.  So when I’m done, I tweak those last set of pages and that’s it, I turn the manuscript in to my editor—being prepared to do more rewriting when I get notes or suggestions back from the editor.

For short stories I normally make a few notes, think about the setup, hopefully have a nice little twist or reveal worked out.  I like my want short stories to have a punch at the end or have the last lines where you leave ‘em wanting more.  I am guilty of liking an ambiguous ending as well.  I’ve knocked out some short stories in a couple of sittings because I can burn on them, I’m so in the head of the main character or characters, I become immersed in what they’re doing…how in the world will this end?  I have to know.

Currently I’m writing two novellas that will be 25,000 or less words each.  Well, I’m scheduled to write one right after the other, not both of them at once.  In the past I’ve written two full books at once, but never again.  Got too confused about what characters belonged where and in which scene switching from writing one of the stories in the morning then to the other in the afternoon.  Not to mention I’m no spring chicken and I need my afternoon naps!

Anyway these novellas will be more action-adventure oriented, pulp flavored material.  In one case featuring a brother who is a sort of combination Bruce Wayne/Batman (though he won’t be running around in a costume) and the Saint while the other one will feature a team of adventurers.  These will initially be e-books for sale, cheap, er, inexpensive, and hopefully if there’s enough downloads to be the basis for continuing series and possibly audio version as well.

I think then my editing approach on the novellas will be at roughly half the word count, I’ll stop, do my rewrite thing, then finish the work.

Gary’s Advice for Getting to the Last Page
Advice on getting from the dreaded first page to the last?  What’s the ad tagline…Just Do It?  I suppose that’s somewhat a cliché but it’s true.  Even if you think what you’re writing is dreck, that it isn’t the story you have in your mind, you’ve got no choice but to get the words down on paper -- I have to edit printed out pages.  You have to have something to work with in front of you.

Gary’s Recommended Writing Resources
I’m not much on books about writing but of the few on my shelf I always recommend Bill Johnson’s A Story is a Promise.  This is a wonderful book about the art of storytelling and breaks down the various components.  Bill also maintains a blog.  Plots and Characters: A Screenwriter on Screenwriting by my late buddy Millard Kaufman is another book I’d recommend.  You don’t have to have an interest in penning screenplays to get something from Millard’s book on the construction of these fundamental elements of story.  Millard, a WWII vet, was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplays for Bad Day at Black Rock and Take the High Ground.  He also wrote and directed this cool B prison movie, Convicts Four, where a crazed Sammy Davis Jr. manically kills some bed bugs in his cell

Lastly, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.  I think you can download the rules but I think it’s nice to have a bound edition—my wife gave me an illustrated one for a birthday from William Morrow.   You might not agree with all of Mr. Leonard’s rules, but they are informative.


Gary Phillips’ recent endeavors include being editor and contributor to the all-original anthology Scoundrels: Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes (which includes a story by Pamela Samuels Young) and Monkology: 15 Stories from the World of Private Eye Ivan Monk.  Visit Gary’s website at

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Finding Time to Write

I've decided that July 1, 2012, will be the day I start writing my next book. Until then, I plan to use this blog to talk about the writing process.

I'm often asked how I find the time to write with my day job as a lawyer, the demands of family life, plus promoting my books on the weekends. I generally respond that if you love writing, you'll find the time.

But there's really a lot more to it than that. It often means sacrifice, as in going without sleep, going without seeing friends and family and missing your favorite TV shows or the latest movie. It also requires planning. I plan my writing time as I do anything else of importance in my life and I urge you to do the same. It's as simple as writing "write all day on Saturday" or "write from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m." on my calendar.

I recently read an article about another writer's writing process on The article  entitled How to Write a Book When You're Really, Really Busy was written by Ashley Ream, who recently released her first book. The link is below. Check out her process. It might just work for you.

And if you're gearing up to start your book and write along with me, remember that July 1 2012, is our start date. So get ready to write!

How to Write a Book When You're Really, Really Busy

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Getting Started

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to my blog! This is an exciting journey for me and I'm inviting you along for the ride. In a few weeks, I plan to start writing my sixth legal thriller. Rather than go it alone, I want you to join me and write your book at the same time I'm writing mine! This way, we can celebrate together when we're done.

Along the way, I'll keep you updated on how it's going for me and I want to hear from you as well. I will also offer occasional writing tips and share with you both the ups and the downs of my writing journey. It's my goal to have a completed first draft of my new novel by January 1, 2013. Can I do it? Can you do it? I certainly think so!

So please subscribe to my blog and get ready to write with me!