In the latest episode of “Inside the Writer’s Head,” you’ll get to know Lance Rubin and his hilarious Young Adult novel “Denton Little’s Death Date.” The podcast, hosted by the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, focuses on writing, reading, and creativity. Lance discusses how he entered the world of Young Adult Fiction, and the challenges and expectations that come along with writing for that genre. His book is set in a world where everyone knows the date of their death, and follows a teenager, Denton Little, through the hours leading up to his “death date.” Lance also discusses what it takes to write comedy, how real life friends influenced the characters in his novels, and more!
Not everyone can come to the novel writing workshops I’ve been running, so I thought it would be helpful to post the PowerPoints I use during those presentations. Not all of the slides will make sense without my brilliant explanations (hardee, har, har), but I think there are helpful things here for any writer. As always, feel free to email any questions you may have.
Workshop 1 – So You’ve Lost Your Mind and Have Decided to Write a Novel
Workshop 2 – Plotting vs. Pantsing: How to (Maybe) Outline a Novel
Workshop 3 – Fiction Writing Tips, Tricks, and Shortcuts
1. Rust forms quickly.
Most writers will tell you to write everyday, and it’s good advice. Know why? Because if you don’t, you lose the momentum and the words. I was on a roll with my current novel when I ended up in the hospital. Then I didn’t write for almost eight weeks. When I finally had the energy to get back to my novel, it took me another two weeks of struggling to get back into it because I had to rediscover the narrator’s voice and I even struggled with vocabulary. So if you can, write everyday…unless you’re in the hospital.
2. Your physical and mental health take priority over everything.
It was hard, hard, hard not writing while I was sick, but some things like oh, I don’t know, my health, take precedence. I had to learn to put writing on the backburner while I recovered, something that was hard for me to do. The break was necessary though because as much as I love to write, it’s definitely hard to do if you’re dead.
3. Every word counts.
In those first two weeks back at writing, I couldn’t do my 500-words-a-day-minimum. I just didn’t have the energy or mental focus. But I could get a solid 100 words, and even that adds up. You may not have a lot of writing time in your life, but with a daily few dozen words here and there you’ll eventually have a finished novel.
4. Every experience is somehow usable.
While I was sick, a lot of people said, “Well, at least you have a lot of material for your next book.” I didn’t tell them I had no intention of writing about what I’d gone through or subject my characters to an extended hospital stay, but I soon realized that while I may not write about catheters, scans, and surgeries, I could use the emotions I had during that time. I feel like I now have a better foundation to write about fear, uncertainty, and pain than I ever did before.
5. Keep a notebook handy.
This is considered standard writing advice, but I didn’t actually practice it until I got sick. Maybe it was the high fever I had for a few days, or the suitcase of pills I had to take daily, but I had a lot of strange visions and ideas in that time. Many of them I wrote down, a lot of them make zero sense now that my brain is clear, but the more ideas you have to pull from, the better, so write them all down.
Get to know author John Mantooth in this fourth episode of our podcast, “Inside the Writer’s Head.” The podcast, hosted by the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, focuses on writing, reading, and creativity. John, who also writes under the name Hank Early, spent much of his youth in the mountains of North Georgia and now lives in central Alabama with his wife and two kids. He writes mostly about crime. His book “Heaven’s Crooked Finger” was his first novel. As John Mantooth, he’s also published “Shoebox Train Wreck” and “The Year of the Storm.” Listen as John and Kurt talk about the creative process and what you can learn from their experiences. Subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
In this third episode of the new season of our podcast, The Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, continues talking writing, reading, and creativity. Kurt interviews fellow Young Adult author Mindy McGinnis. She is an Edgar Award-winning author (The Female of the Species, A Madness So Discreet, Not a Drop to Drink, etc.), blogger (Writer, Writer Pants on Fire), and assistant teen librarian who lives in Ohio. She graduated from Otterbein University with a degree in English Literature and Religion. Listen as Kurt and Mindy discuss writing, honing the craft, finding inspiration, learning from mistakes, and more. Subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
When I started writing back in 2006, I wrote horror short stories. I suppose that was mostly because of Stephen King. I’d devoured all of his collections and novels since high school, so it felt natural to try that. Over the course of a half-dozen years, I had some decent success selling short stories, and met a lot of other horror writers who became my friends and taught me a lot about the publishing world. Eventually though, I got tired of writing short stories and wanted to try a novel. The obvious progression was to continue what I’d been doing, so I spent three years (or four or five years, I can’t remember, but it was a long time) writing a young adult horror novel. LUCKY TOWN didn’t have traditional horror elements (i.e. no supernatural occurrences, no monsters, etc.), but was definitely dark–a kid’s father has a breakdown and relocates the family to the swamp where he is manipulated by a mysterious passerby into starting a cult that is headed for a Jonestown Massacre-like situation unless the kid can stop it. So yeah, pretty dark.
Ultimately, LUCKY TOWN was read and rejected by nineteen agents, and after cycling through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, I was left wondering what to write next. The logical choice was to write another dark YA novel. I also knew the horror publishers and agents, and felt I had come really close with my failed novel. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized something that pretty much changed my writing life — I hated writing horror. Yes, I’d sold horror short stories and had been to a handful of horror writing conventions, but I realized I didn’t like who I was when I was writing in that genre. Because the thing is, I’m not a dark person. I have a very dark sense of humor, sure, and can be gross with the best of them, but my overall personality isn’t that dark. And as much as I liked the concept of LUCKY TOWN, I didn’t find any enjoyment in writing it. The people, the mood and tone, the plot–all were bleak, and that’s not me. Hell, I really don’t even like horror movies that much. More than anything, I like being funny, or at least trying to be so. That’s when I decided to write something more fitting of me and who I am–a schemer, a plotter, and a smart ass. And with that in mind, two years later I’d written, gotten representation for, and subsequently sold DON’T GET CAUGHT.
Why I Succeeded Where I’d Failed Before:
I have every belief that DON’T GET CAUGHT sold because I loved writing it. Was it hard work? Yes, but it was fun work. I loved those characters, their scheming, and the world they inhabited. I was myself when I wrote that book, and I think it translated onto the page. I’m pretty sure anyone who knows me and reads the novel would say, “Yeah, that’s Kurt.” It’s my sense of humor – sarcastic, smart ass-y, and somewhat (okay, definitely) juvenile. The novel also reads super fast, which is what I like my books to do. I like plot and dialogue and twists and ensemble casts. The novel has all of that. Being myself, writing the book I’d truly want to read, is what made DON’T GET CAUGHT marketable.
But once I sold that novel, I again struggled with what to write. For awhile I thought I needed to write like the most popular YA authors of the day, writing serious, issue-driven novels that get write-ups in magazines and get taught in high school classes. I figured that was the next step–writing something “bigger”, more important, really trying to establish myself as an up-and-coming YA author. (Man, that sounds so pretentious, right?) And for a couple of weeks, I played with ideas that might fit what I considered “important.” Ultimately though, none of them stuck. And why? Because, you have to be who you are. Like with trying to write horror, a serious, issue-driven book was not me. I could probably fake a novel like that, but I wouldn’t like doing it, and I have no doubt it would be terrible because–once again–it wouldn’t be me.
If you’re just starting to write, I strongly suggest writing as the person you are, not as someone you think you should be. If you don’t like a certain genre, don’t write in it. It sounds simple, but it’s definitely something I forget from time to time. So instead of trying to force yourself into some preconceived notion of what a successful author is, write what you like to and hope it finds an audience. It’s a massive leap of faith that anyone who embarks in the arts has to take, but I think it’s the best way to ensure that you enjoy the journey.
TL;DR: Write who you are.
In this second episode of the new season of our podcast, The Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence, Kurt Dinan, continues talking writing, reading, creativity, and more. Listen as Kurt interviews local author Geoffrey Girard about his writing process and his “other” life as a high school teacher — something Kurt and Geoffrey both have in common. Geoffrey writes thrillers, historical fiction, and dark speculative fiction. His first book, Tales of the Jersey Devil, is thirteen original tales based on American folklore. His upcoming book, Truthers, is young adult novel about a 9/11 conspiracy. Subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts.
I think every one out there who considers himself/herself a reader has a secret desire to write a book, or at least has entertained the idea at one point or another. Writing a book is an imposing project, sort of like standing at the bottom of Mount Everest and thinking, “I have to climb that?!” So below are five strategies/tips for starting (and continuing) to write.
1. Start today.
I started writing when I was thirty, and had my first novel published when I was forty-four. Do the math. Sorry to go all Grim Reaper on you, but that invisible mortality countdown timer over your head is decreasing, not increasing, by the second.
2. Give yourself permission to suck.
Look, here’s what going to happen– you’re going to be all excited to write, then after an hour or so will realize, Holy cow! This is terrible. Why doesn’t it sound like anything I read? and will want to give up. Like learning how to play a musical instrument or how to juggle flaming bowling balls , writing well takes patience and persistence (and flame-retardant gloves.) And that only comes if you give yourself permission to be bad at first, and don’t give up when frustration hits.
3. Get an early victory.
Young writers, or anyone in a new endeavor, who have success early tend to keep at it. So I suggest giving yourself an early victory to motivate yourself to continue writing. Here’s how to do that–Pick a favorite scene from the novel you have in your head regardless of chronology and write that. Or instead of starting at year one of your demented family’s history, write about your eccentric Aunt Helen and her collection of toilet paper rolls she’s decorated to resemble the Founding Fathers, or whoever else you think you could do a damn fine job at. Whatever gets you excited to write, that’s what you should starting writing
4. Eliminate distractions.
Writers are great at finding reasons not to write. Some days I’d rather start my taxes six months early or clean the rain gutters out with my tongue than write. And once I do start writing, that’s when I realize, hey, I should check my email/Twitter feed/fantasy football line-up/etc. So eliminating those distractions and daydreams is essential. If you can, find a place to write without a lot of foot traffic, noise pollution, and, if really possible, away from the damn Internet. For this last one, there are a handful of fantastic apps out there that will shutoff your internet for a predetermined time while you write. It’s sad that I have to rely on this, but hey, whatever it takes, I say.
5. Write today, tomorrow, and forever.
If you don’t commit to writing everyday, you’re dead before you get started. I’m not talking about setting aside two hours everyday to write (do people really have that?!) but you must get some writing finished everyday. Yes, you’ll miss a day every now and then–for example, I wouldn’t suggest writing on your anniversary, unless you want it to be your last–and six out of seven days will do just fine, but write, write, write. My life is busy, as I’m sure yours is, but I try to get at least 500 words down a day. It adds up fast, believe me.
We’re all busy people, so let’s get right to it, shall we? I’m Kurt Dinan, high school English teacher, 2016 debut author, and the Cincinnati Public Library’s 2016-2017 Writer-in-Residence. I’ll be keeping this blog going for the next year, and figure it would be best to start with an introduction of sorts. I do best answering questions rather than just rambling about myself, so with that in mind I now present: The Kurt Dinan FAQ
Random Person: Wait, Kurt Dinan? That guy who graduated from Lakota High School in 1989, got his Bachelor’s degree from OU, his Master’s from Miami, who has taught English for twenty-two years, and who once won $1000 playing Bingo?
RP: And now you’re the writer-in-residence? Just to clarify, that means you’ll blog, do a podcast, and run writing workshops and other smaller events for the library over the course of the year?
RP: What are those workshops going to be about? Just guessing, but are they maybe a 5-session primer covering all aspects of writing a novel, from (1) developing the initial concept to (2) plotting to (3) writing tips to (4) revising to (5) getting published? Is that what you’re thinking?
RP: But don’t you have to have some sort of proven experience and knowledge to do something like that? You’d probably have to be a creative writing teacher and also have been writing for over ten years. In fact, it’d be nice if maybe you’ve had a novel published recently that you can draw from those experiences. Do you have any of that?
RP: Wait, I may have heard of it. Are you the guy who wrote, DON’T GET CAUGHT, the young adult novel about a prank war gone awry, filled with juvenile humor and terrible knuckleheaded behavior written to make the reader laugh?
RP: So I’m guessing that you’re going to use what you learned from writing that novel, procuring an agent, and selling the novel to a publisher as the foundation of your workshops, your posts here, and the podcast?
RP: That sounds great. I’m just hoping, you know, that you’re a lot better more lively and talking in person than you’ve been in this interview. Will you be?
Okay, so that’s it! I’m planning on updating this blog twice a month, and there should be a monthly podcast as well. You can follow me on Twitter at @kurtdinan and the Cincinnati Public Library at @CincyLibrary I’m really excited and looking forward to a great year!
On Saturday, June 30, at the Main Library, the Library Foundation’s Writer-In-Residence Jeffrey Hillard led a “Short Story Workshop” to help aspiring writers hone their craft and enrich their short fiction. The workshop involved a group reading of Lucia Berlin’s story “My Jockey;” helpful pointers on character development, dialogue, secondary patterns; and insider tips to help writers think about their work in a different way. In addition, the workshop included a curated list of reading recommendations selected by Jeffrey because of their “expert use of short fiction elements, techniques and moments.” For more tips, Jeffrey’s presentation, which has loads of useful suggestions, has been posted to SlideShare.