Writing Muscles

Outtakes 216

Writing Muscles

By Cait Collins


I learned a number of things during my vacation. I think the most telling was I don’t exercise enough. I did a lot of walking on less than level streets and climbed up and down ladders and stairs. By the end of the trip I was hurting. So I resolve to exercise more so that I don’t punish my body when I travel or have an adventure.

Just like our bodies deteriorate from a lack of exercise, our writing skills can suffer from a lack of use. Too often we use the same formula when we begin a new project? What if we changed the routine? Could the story be more exciting or could the different turn propel us to new avenues for our careers? Is the risk worth the potential results? Maybe the better question would be what if we never take a risk? Will the failure to explore possibilities actually be detrimental to success?

Work your voice. Not the one that verbally articulates your thoughts, but the voice that is uniquely you. Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire series has a style that advertises the author. You only have to read a few paragraphs to recognize the style and hand-picked word choices. That’s what we all need and want – – a voice that promotes our individual style and personality.

We must also exercise our basic skills of grammar, vocabulary, characterization, plot and description. We can not become lazy and complacent in these areas. When the primary elements become weak, the whole work suffers. For this reason, I play with lists, colors, unusual situations, and new characters. I recommend 642 Things to Write About and 712 More Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. The books provide fabulous exercises to stretch, mold, strengthen and sculpt our skills.

Just as flabby and weak muscles are not good for the body, underdeveloped skills do not make for good writing. Resolve now to work the skills that lead to better and more fulfilling work.


Pantsin’ It


Pantsin’ It

By Nandy Ekle

I have a cast of characters. I have a situation. I have a setting. I drop my characters with their situations into their setting and say, “Okay, go.” They begin to act and speak to each other and to me and the story appears.

I am a pantser, one who writes “by the seat of my pants.” Some of my best tales are those where I put my hands on the keyboard, or pick up a pen and paper, and just start to write. I usually have an opening sentence in mind, or at least an opening situation, and a vague idea of an ending. I try not to be too attached to an ending because I know that anything can happen.

And what usually does happen is magic. The zone comes down and blots out the rest of the world and I focus one hundred percent on the character. I see her face, her home, her clothes. I hear her voice and the way she speaks her words. I see through her eyes and feel everything she feels and hears. A lot of times I am as thrilled and surprised by the story as I hope my readers are.

The advantages to this are limitless. This brings an intimacy between me and my characters and I trust them when they want to go in a different direction from my plans. Also the story is more genuine than if I planned every single detail (intricate planning feels very clinical to me). My favorite aspect of “pantsing it” is the spontaneous fun and adventure I have when I write.

I had the story planned just the way it should have gone. I knew the theme of my story and I had the events in place to bring the characters to the ending I had planned. Everything was going like clockwork. As I type I watch the characters act and speak as I knew they would. Then, suddenly, one of them—the one I thought was neutral—turns to look at me with a glint in his eye. That’s when the true ending springs to life in my head. My skin prickles with goosebumps and my eyes tear up. I cry and giggle at the same time all day long.

That is why I write as a pantser.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.