Friday, March 16, 2012

Guest Post by Lauren Bailey

Something Borrowed:
A Few Words on Originality in Creative Writing

by Lauren Bailey

Even the Bible, written over 2,000 years ago, proclaims it: there is nothing new under the sun. As writers one of the greatest challenges we face is the fear that we are unoriginal. A library that contained all the projects abandoned when its author feels derivative of another work would be the largest on Earth, larger even than the historical library at Alexandria.

The fear is not an irrational one, especially when critics praise new literature for its novelty — and given that post-modern literature tends to become stylistically inventive and at times even obscure, there seems to be a lot of pressure to bring constant innovation not only to the content but also to the form of literature.

Still, too many new authors are too easily discouraged by this originality "requirement," which is mostly imaginary and almost always misinterpreted.

Granted, writing any work of literature, be it poetry, short stories, novels, biographies, or anything in between, does demand some degree of creativity — you can't write anything if you don't have an idea. But the "requirement" ends there, at least in terms of sweeping innovation.

If you have an idea, you are already innovated enough to be original.

Anything you write will ultimately be influenced by other sources you've encountered throughout your life. It's inescapable. But that doesn't make your work unoriginal. And that's what authors need to remember at all times.

How many romance or fantasy novels do you think have been published? More than you could keep in your house, or even all the houses on your block, probably. Wuthering Heights was a romance novel, among many others dating even farther back in time. Yet new romance novels are written and published every day.

Are each of these works totally inspired and absolutely new? Absolutely not.

Take a more "sophisticated" example: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. Stripped of characterization and specific plot lines, The Corrections is a coming-of-age novel about families in the era of technology. Family plots and coming-of-age stories are as numerous as the stars.
The fact that someone else in history had written a story about families didn't stop Franzen, though, and critics are still praising it as one of the major works of American fiction in the last decade.

What distinguishes Franzen's novel from any other coming-of-age story? The answer is simple: Franzen. Ultimately the difference comes from the fact that Franzen and no one else wrote The Corrections. Only he could bring his particular insights, turns of phrase, dialects, plot twists, characters to the book in the way he did.

You aren't Jonathan Franzen, but when you write, you bring your own set of experiences to the table and tell stories differently than anyone else. Give the same writing prompt to 20 people and all of them will write a different story.

So the next time you are worried about your story being unoriginal or derivative, try to subdue the voice in your head that's saying that, and just write the story. You'll never know if it is original or not if you don't write it.

Bio: This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey, who regularly writes for accredited online colleges. She welcomes your comments via email: blauren99

Monday, March 12, 2012

Interview with Christina Katz, author of The Writer's Workout

Christina Katz is the author of three books from Writer’s Digest: The Writer’s Workout, Get Known Before the Book Deal, and Writer Mama. Her writing career tips and parenting advice appear regularly in national, regional, and online publications. A “gentle taskmaster” over the past decade to hundreds of writers, Christina’s students go from unpublished to published, build professional writing career skills, and increase their creative confidence over time. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA in English from Dartmouth College. A popular speaker on creative career growth, Christina presents for writing conferences, literary events, MFA writing programs, and libraries. She is the creator and host of the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon, where she lives with her husband, her daughter, and far too many pets. Learn more at

So, what’s The Writer’s Workout all about?

The Writer’s Workout contains 366 ideas—one idea per day—intended to encourage writers into prosperous action. It reviews critical skills for every writer such as improving craft, learning to sell work, how and when to specialize, ways to keep learning and growing, self-promotion from the basics through advanced topics, and how to balance traditional publication with self-publication.

What makes The Writer’s Workout different from your first two books?

Like all my books, The Writer’s Workout is a mashup of various types of writing instruction. However this book contains a distillation of my experience, my students’ collective experiences over the past decade, and the universal experience of being a writer across the ages in the form of what I hope are 366 timeless quotes. This is my third book and it differs from my first two books quite a bit in focus, objective, and format.

How is The Writer’s Workout different from other writing books already out there?

One thing that makes The Writer’s Workout unique is that the rise and fall of the how-to curve is set against the backdrop of the seasons of the year. The seasonal backdrop helped me deliver advice for writers on four levels: beginner, intermediate, seasoned pro, and veteran—each paralleling a season: spring, summer, fall, or winter. The result, I hope, is one idea every day that will help writers find and maintain literary momentum all year long in these highly distracted times.

Some people say these are tough times for writers. Others say there are opportunities around every corner. What do you say?

I say we are living in a gig economy, where professionals are stringing freelance jobs together into creative careers. We’re all doing the best we can, finding and maintaining our momentum. Not only can The Writer’s Workout assist folks who are just getting started supplementing their income with writing, it can help people who have already been writing professionally recognize that there are more opportunities to build income streams writing than any of us have realized. And then it’s just a matter of choosing the goals that will best suit your goals.

How did you come to write The Writer’s Workout?

Prior to landing the deal for this book, I was offered the opportunity to write a different book about how to be an organized writer—a topic that, unfortunately, did not feel like a good fit for the way I work.

I recommended a former student for the job and started asking myself, if not that book, then what book did I want to write? Jane Friedman, then publisher at Writer’s Digest, and I sat down in an airport restaurant after the Writer’s Digest conference in January 2010, and brainstormed the idea that evolved into The Writer’s Workout. Basically, I wanted to encapsulate everything that I’d learned from working closely with hundreds of writers over ten years. Two years and many thousands of words later, here it is.

The Writer's Workout is almost 400-pages long, yet you offer classes on writing “short stuff” and “micro-publishing.” As a writer, how do you reconcile both shorter and longer works?

You have to look at it this way: the book is 366 short pieces collected and placed in an order that creates a longer movement. That’s exactly how I was taught to write fiction in graduate school. This write short before you write long school-of-thought is also how I teach writers to draft and polish publishable work. We start short and then extend the jumps until, next thing you know, the writer is writing long pieces like features, e-books and even books. How? By pulling together shorter pieces to create longer pieces.

You have been called a “gentle taskmaster” by your students. What does this mean and why would writers need this kind of help?

A coach is a person who trains others to perform better. Every writer needs a kick in the pants now and then. This book has plenty of boots in the caboose and also acknowledges the challenging times we’re living in. Reading this book is like having a personal coach for your writing career, who holds you accountable to your potential, every day of the year. Get this book if you would like to have your own personal coach without the massive expense of paying for one. You’ll be your own best writing coach by the time the book is done.

Our workdays are constantly disrupted these days. What do you say to the writer who has trouble focusing and following through?

I rarely hear students in my training groups complaining about dramas or distractions in their lives. If something upsets their focus, it’s a major life disturbance like a trip to the emergency room, a spouse’s job loss, or a death in the family. That’s life calling, not a distraction.

Our attention can be hijacked by one hundred and one meaningless distractions per minute. I say turn up the focus and the distractions will fall away. Drama and distraction are not necessary for self-expression but they sure can impede it. I say keep the drama on the page. You can get hooked on making grounded creative progress just as you can get hooked on chasing every distraction and fanning the flames of every potential drama. The cure for discouragement is accomplishing a short-term objective every day.

I understand The Writer’s Workout originally had a different title. What was the original title?

The Writer’s Workout actually had three previous titles. I’ll share them if folks, who have read the book, will tell me which they think is the best match with the final version.

1. The first title was: Read. Write. Grow.

2. The second title was: The Everyday Writing Coach.

3. The third title was: The Anyday Writing Coach.

4. And the fourth and final title was: The Writer’s Workout.

Personally, I prefer The Writer’s Workout. But what does everyone else think?

Any final comments you would like to make in closing?

At the end of the day, it does not matter if you are self-published or traditionally published, blogging or not blogging, a book-sniffer or a digital diva, a social media maven or a social media deer-in-the-headlights—what matters is that you cultivate the creativity that wants to be expressed through you. That’s your job. Go do it!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Publication Opportunity: YA Anthology Looking for Historical Romances!

I received this Call for Submissions and wanted to pass it along in case any of you are interested in submitting... looks like a neat project!


We are looking for YA short stories to include in our first ebook anthology, titled Timeless!

If your short story is between 3000 and 7500 words and fits into the genre of YA historical romance with some twists, we want to read it. The story can include steampunk, fantasy, or adventure, as long as it includes some historical elements then we are interested in reading it.
  • Submit the whole manuscript as a Word .doc file (no .docx) by March 30, 2012, with the subject heading: submission–YA anthology.
  • Please include a bio, publishing credits if any, and a synopsis.
  • Email: pugaliciouspress(at) (replace (at) with @ in sending email)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review of "Mockingbird" by Kathryn Erskine

MockingbirdMockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was impressed by how authentic the voice of the main character, Caitlin, seemed as a portrayal of a young girl with Asperger’s Syndrome. On Kathryn Erskine's website she shares a long list of books she read to research Autism and Asperger’s; it also mentions that she interviewed experts and teachers and had them read her manuscript and give her feedback. I think this level of detailed research shines through this book. I took a literature class last semester that focused on portrayals of disability in fiction, and one of the commonalities we discussed was the tendency of authors to give disability some sort of heightened symbolic meaning, or for the characters with disabilities to be defined wholly by their disabilities/differences rather than being portrayed as whole and nuanced human beings. I thought Kathryn Erskine avoided both of these tired tropes in Mockingbird. Caitlin’s voice is unique, but not in a way that impeded me from seeing her as a vivid, real character. As I read further along into the book, it was like her disability faded into the background and I knew Caitlin more for her other traits: her artistic talent, her bravery and curiosity, her quick thinking, her stubbornness, and her compassion and thoughtfulness.

This book tackles difficult subjects—grief, violence, bullying, difference—with a gentle and generous spirit. It is a great reminder to students (and teachers and parents!) that we all have our differences, but we also all have much the same about us. Mockingbird seems to argue that the only way to combat exclusion and meanness is to strive towards understanding each other and being patient with each other, and though some adult readers might find the treatment of this theme/motif a bit heavy-handed, I think it is a valuable lesson for all readers and one that is worth sharing.

Caveats: A school shooting plays a major plot point in the book, which may be upsetting for some students to read about. Teachers should be extra sensitive to this topic and perhaps use the book as a jumping-off point for discussion on school safety, violence, bullying, etc.

Teaching idea: This book would be excellent to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird (and possibly the film version of the novel as well.) Teachers might also work in creative art time by giving students an assignment to draw a mockingbird as a charcoal or pencil sketch (black and white) and then to do another version with pastels or watercolors (color). What different beauty can be found in each version? A reader-response question might be: Think of a time you had an argument or disagreement with someone. Write down your point of view of what happened. Now, turn over the piece of paper and write about the same event as if you are the other person telling the story. Get inside this person’s head/perspective, much as Caitlin tries to do in the book when she is learning to empathize with others.

Other books by Kathryn Erskine: Quaking (2007) and The Absolute Value of Mike (2011)

Themes/motifs: grief and healing, art, family, community, friendship, loss, disability and difference, black & white vs. color & nuance

View all of my Goodreads reviews