The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writing prompts

Feeling stuck in your writing and storytelling? Are you not finishing things because you get overwhelmed with keeping track of your characters and plotlines? Frustrated with how you are plotting your novel or memoir? Are you painting yourself into too many story corners that you don’t know how to get out of?

Want to know how to bring a story full circle, connect the dots and create a fantastic ending? Want to know more about ‘story beats’ and how to effectively employ them?

Want some inspiring writing craft and mindset tips?

Great, my writer friend, Emma Dhesi can help! She is hosting a cool series that you’re going to love.

Emma has brought together 20+ writers, creatives, editors, and publishers for this complimentary training series. 

The Be a Bestseller: Structure Your Story of Success series is guaranteed to ignite your creativity. Many speakers will be sharing their expertise for better plotting and story structure and others will be focused on mindset issues. It is geared for novelists, memoirists and short story writers. She is a fantastic interviewer.

And, I’m ALSO one of the speakers! I’ll be talking about how positive self-talk can supercharge your writing life (as you know one of my favorite topics)!

And it’s totally free. Sign up here and see all the speakers: https://masterclass.beabestseller.net/MicheleTBerger

BTW: If you are struggling with motivation and momentum in your writing, you might like my free guide: Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19.

Happy New Year!

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions. But I do like to have a set of guiding intentions for the year which are different than resolutions or even goals. Intentions feel less rigid than resolutions. This year to support my intentions, I am trying something new—Chris Brogan’s 3 Word Process. Chris Brogan is a consultant and bestselling writer and he has been sharing his 3 Word Process for over a decade. I had never heard of his process though it is quite popular.

You decide on three words and they guide “your choices and actions day to day”. They represent one’s commitments for the year and as Brogan says act as “lighthouses”. From his practice over the years choosing three words is better and more powerful than four words or two words.

I like the simplicity of narrowing one’s focus to encompass three meaningful words. Also, I believe 2021 will be a transitional year (especially the first half) due to the pandemic. Last year, my well-groomed goals quickly flew out the window as was true for many. Adaptability and flexibility were key lessons for me in 2020, so there’s no reason now to get locked into rigid goal-setting given so many variables out of my control.

My words for 2021 are Systems, Replenish and Solo

Systems: I want to undertake systems level change and integration with my technology (i.e. multiple computers, phones, etc.), but also between my career, writing life and coaching business. I’m looking for efficiency and ease.

Replenish: Despite the pandemic, 2020 was the most successful year I ever had as a creative writer and coach across all metrics (e.g. publications, relationship-building, craft up leveling, revenue generated, and fun had). It was also an incredibly successful year in my academic career. I, however, burned the candle at both ends and have been doing so for a long time. I need fill the creative well.

Solo: I love collaborations and am good at them, but 2021 will be the year for discernment. Some of my academic collaborations are naturally coming to an end because our projects are nearing completion. Others, I will need to consciously change or end. As a writer and coach, I will use this word to remind me to weigh the pros and cons of a potential collaboration.

If you are looking for a guiding rubric in 2021 besides the standard New Year’s resolutions, you may enjoy the 3 Word Process. Find out more here. And, if you decide to use his process, please share your 3 words—we can hold each other accountable!

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Hi folks,

I’ve got a GREAT opportunity for you. Two spaces just opened up for my last RESET, RENEW, RECLAIM virtual writing retreat being held TOMORROW, Saturday, Dec 12, 11-3. And, I want to make it available to you for $39 (originally $69)! My purpose is to support and uplift writers and I’d love for you to experience this retreat at a SWEET price.

Saturday’s topic is Author Mindset/Creating Juicy Goals for 2021. We’ll spend our time reflecting on our writing in 2020 (the ups and downs), how to set up sustainable and favorable conditions for our writing life in 2021. We will align our goals to writing systems and prepare for what might throw us off track.

We’ll dream together about to how to create a writing ‘eco-system’ that is sustainable and fun for you in 2021! This has been one of my most productive writing years (despite the pandemic) and I’m going to share all my writing hacks with YOU.

If you haven’t been writing and miss being in a community of writers, this retreat is for you.

During the retreat there will be writing time, mindfulness exercises for focus, cool writing exercises and group coaching. We’ll have the option for a short lunch break and/or additional writing time.

Now is the perfect time to plan for what you want your writing life to LOOK and FEEL like for 2021. The last weeks of Dec and first weeks of Jan are often the worst time to do this kind of work—we’re usually tired from the holidays.

2021 is guaranteed to bring new challenges and opportunities to our writing lives, so let’s prepare!

I hope you join me tomorrow!

I can accept payment:
-via PayPal: bergermichele2005@yahoo.com
Questions? email me: mtb@creativetickle.com

Hi Writers,

Over the past several months, I’ve heard from so many writers that their old ways of doing things just aren’t working.

Many of us aren’t writing and if we are writing, we’re not having a lot of joy doing it. Many of us are finding it hard to get ourselves to the page and to stay focused when we arrive. We’re often afraid, discouraged, and tired. Very tired. Our inner critics have been very loud during the past few months.

We haven’t danced with, wrangled with or been charmed by our muse(s) in quite a while.

I HEAR you and I’ve designed something for you that you will LOVE.

It’s time to RESET. I’ve found that if I don’t reset every 5-6 weeks regarding my mindset, exercise routine, and writing habits, I hit a wall.

A reset is in order. And FALL is a perfect time for one.

I’ve designed a NEW online monthly writing retreat series: Reset, Refresh and Reclaim

I call these themed retreats reset, refresh and reclaim for a reason—we need these qualities now more than ever to deal with the changing pace of life!

These well-paced structured retreats are designed to inspire you and connect you to other writers. You’ll get some serious writing done and have FUN while doing it!

Give me the next four months and I will take you from creatively blocked to creatively sparked!

My reset approach has kept me productive, writing and getting published throughout the last six months.

Space for these online retreats is limited. I’m offering this to YOU at these rates, before I advertise broadly, because you are part of my community as an engaged reader of this blog.

Want to see how excited I am to tell you about these retreats and what we will do in them? Here’s a brief video:

If you don’t want to watch the video, it’s fine. All the details are below.

Here’s what people have said recently about my expertise as a coach and writing facilitator:

“Michele’s calm voice and emphasis on mindfulness practices has been a boon to my writing.” Amy T.

“I’ve written more with Michele in two hours during her Write-INs than I have during the last four months.” Francesca P.

“Michele encourages one to do their deepest work in a supportive environment.” Mark J.

“I thoroughly enjoyed September’s writing retreat! You have a wonderful teaching style, and as someone who struggles with ADHD, you kept me fully engaged the entire time.” Rachelle H.

ONLINE WRITING RETREATS

Reset, Refresh and Reclaim

If you’ve found yourself isolated, alone, and struggling with your writing, imagine how much different writing might feel if you had some dedicated and structured time, plus awesome community and coaching support.

Here’s a way to write THROUGH the fear, sludge and anxiety!

You can sign up for ONE retreat or ALL of them. 

They all will include writing time (come with work or start something new), a brief writing craft discussion, fun writing exercises and games, mindfulness exercises for focus, and group coaching. We’ll have the option for a short lunch break and/or additional writing time.

Each retreat is curated to the needs and interests of the group. Once you register, I’ll send a brief survey to find out more about you. A few days prior to the workshop, you will receive additional information and any suggested readings or exercises.

Fall Retreat Dates:

*Saturday, Sept 26-The Harvest of 2020 

Saturday, Oct 24-Characters

Saturday, Nov 21-Beginnings, Middles and Endings

Saturday, Dec 12–Author Mindset/Goals for 2021

(11am-2pm EST via ZOOM)

(Dec’s retreat will go 11-3, BONUS hour!) 

(*tentative topics; each workshop is tailored to registered participants)

That’s 16+ hours of writing, community and support for you over the next 4 months!

Want to feel GREAT at the end of the year knowing that you MADE time for and NOURISHED your writing life? I know you do!

Ready to sign up? Ready to Reset?

Each online writing retreat is $69.00

Sign up for the remaining 3 for $197(discounted!)

I can accept payment in a few ways:

-via PayPal:
(The link above takes you to my Creative Tickle business link. In the comment box for PayPal, let me know which month(s) you are registering for.)

-I’m also on Zelle as Michele Berger (State Employees’ Credit Union)

Questions? Email me at mtb@creativetickle.com

Look forward to seeing you soon!

***

BTW: Your invitation still stands, click here to get your free guide: ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

Hi Writers,

Right now many writers I know are struggling with focus, accountability and staying inspired. Like other aspects of our lives, our precious writing routines have been (and continue to be) disrupted.

What many of us crave is connection, both to other writers and our inner writing rhythms.

A few weeks ago, I hosted several FREE Write-INS to gather together virtually and write.

I called it ‘Write, Connect and Share’: Virtual Write-INs’

Here’s how it works:

You log on through a Zoom link, see me on Zoom (everyone one is muted, and video off) and I lead you through a 5 minute writing prompt, mindfulness exercise or gentle stretch.

After that, I turn on an online timer for 45 minutes. You write. At the end of 45 minutes, I come on and encourage you to take a break before the next session (i.e. stretch, drink some water, etc.). We do the same thing during the second hour.

Why this structure? It’s been proven one of the most effective ones for helping writers minimize external and internal distractions. And doing shorter sessions prevents binge writing. This is the structure that I have used consistently and successfully for both my scholarly and creative work for the past five years. This format encourages a mindful approach and helps me write smack-dab in the middle of my busy life.

So, many folks showed up at the Write-INs. Some people came to all of the sessions, others to just one session. Some stayed for the full two hour block and others came for one hour. Many people said it was the first time they had written in weeks. Others noted how calm they felt before and after their writing session.

Here’s the best part—I’m doing it again for FREE on Monday, May 25 (7:30-9:30 am EST) and Thursday, May 28 (3-5 pm and 8-9 pm EST).

I’m only offering this support to folks who are readers of this blog and/or subscribers to my newsletter .

I’d love for you to join me.

Writing together, in community, in a focused way can boost the writing routine you have or get you back on track if you haven’t been writing much during the past few weeks.

To get the Zoom links for the upcoming Write-INs, go here.

 

Self-talk is important. What have you been saying to yourself about your writing these past few weeks, or months or even years? Most of us use negative internal language in relation to our creative lives. In last month’s Chatham County Line column I shared how in 2016 a daily affirmation practice changed my life. If you were a reader of the blog in 2016, you may remember this endeavor. Coaches, psychologists and other mental health providers now routinely advocate the use of helpful and positive self-talk. My piece is called “Fruits of a Daily Affirmation Practice”. Here’s a snippet below. I hope you check it out.

I loved making nice images for my affirmations using Canva

The Fruits of a Daily Affirmation Practice

 

Feeling worthy is a learned behavior. —Beverly McIver, visual artist

 

In 2016, I committed to a practice that changed my creative life.  I posted an original affirmation every day on my blog, The Practice of Creativity, from January 1-December 31.

What are affirmations?

 There is a great secret which successful writers and creators from all backgrounds use – affirmations. That’s right, affirmations, phrases that affirm our work and value. And, they help us direct intention into our work. And, they can work for you. Many psychologists, mental health workers and coaches advocate the use of affirmations.

 An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching the Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” You can use them as ‘thought substitutes’ to dispute self-injurious thoughts (as a cognitive behavioral approach), or to provide incentive and encouragement when those seem to be in short supply. Affirmations rewire our assumptions about what’s possible.

The imposter syndrome is a universal one among writers. Established writers can have bouts with it as often as emerging writers. We combat it through affirmations, having a writing community and persisting.

In 2016 what I needed as a writer was lots of practice in self-kindness, plain and simple. I had craft, discipline and perseverance in spades. Many creative people struggle with simply being self-accepting. As you know, we can think the meanest things about ourselves. I don’t know of any writer who hasn’t felt like giving up on their writing dreams. I don’t know of any writer who couldn’t benefit from helpful, kind self-talk on a regular basis. Anxiety, unhelpful self-talk, and inner critics often stop us before we can even get to our projects.

https://chathamcountyline.org/pdfs/CCL.april20.web.pdf

 

Your invitation still stands, click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

Hi writing peeps,

Most writers I know are having a difficult time staying connected to their writing life. In the past six weeks, you’ve probably had your schedule upended in completely dramatic ways. Your writing routine is now very different than it once was. Me, too.

This was the #truth

Some of us aren’t writing and really want to. Many of us still have deadlines and projects.

How can you move forward on the writing that matters most?

You know my mission is to serve creative people. I’ve recently written a short guide ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’. In it are some powerful ways to get and stay inspired. These are techniques I’ve culled from years of working with clients through my coaching practice. You’ll love this information and find it valuable. [And, the guide includes some cool bonuses, too]. It’s my FREE offering to you.

I’m only offering this to people in my community. You won’t find this information elsewhere.

Click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

*Also, if you are reading this and work in a creative area besides writing, I believe you’d find the guide useful, too.

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The beginning of the year has been a whirlwind, in a good way. I was invited to lead a craft workshop for the students attending Carlow University’s low-residency Creative Writing MFA program, taking place in early Jan, in Pittsburgh, PA.

I was very excited, honored and nervous. I am an educator by training and routinely teach undergraduate and graduate students in my areas of my research expertise (e.g. women’s and gender studies, sociology, and political science). Although I have given craft talks, I have never designed and solely led a workshop for MFA students. Even though I have taught writing workshops alone and with others, I have never taught in an actual MFA program.

I received the invitation in September. Once I accepted, an annoying inner critic voice popped up and said, “Who does she think she is to teach MFA students, especially when she doesn’t have an MFA?”

I had to repeatedly say to myself, “This is not about your ego or degrees. You are here to serve the students and offer up what you think will be useful to them.” One of the reasons why I was invited was because they have had students express an interest in writing speculative fiction. The administrators gave me complete freedom to design the workshop in any way that I wished.

Once I reminded myself that I had something unique to offer and that it was OK not to be perfect on the first round, I totally got into designing the workshop.

The MFA students sign up for the classes they want to take about a month before, so I sent some preliminary questions about their goals, challenges, interests, etc. I used their answers to guide me as I developed the workshop.

I taught about speculative fiction and my path as a winding path as a writer (i.e. why I went to get a PhD in political science instead of an MFA). I integrated mindfulness and contemplative practices as resources for sustaining their writing. I also had them generate lots of material through prompts and free writing. We looked at some ways that writers can play with premise, setting and character as part of speculative work. I drew on a wide variety of authors and my own work as demonstrations of particular approaches.

Boy, does two and half hours fly by!

The students were amazing and generous to me and each other.

I so enjoyed watching students dive deep in the exercises and claim some of their buried interests, including horror and dark fiction.

The fantastic MFA students I worked with at Carlow.

I absolutely loved teaching the workshop.

I’m glad I didn’t let my fear get the best of me. I’m also glad that without acting like a know-it-all, I could share with them some lessons I’ve learned as well as hear what their writing lives are like. As in all adult learning communities, you know some things and they know some things. Learning happens in the middle.

The only thing I would do differently would be to send some of the short readings ahead of time, so we would have more time for in class writing and reading our work.

I was honored to read alongside Patrice Gobo (center) and Lynn Emmanuel. We read poetry, memoir and fiction and our selections all complimented each other.

The faculty and staff were welcoming and it was a joy to be with them. I loved reading with the other faculty, too.

Creatives, don’t we just light up when we are with other creatives?

Below are two of the exercises that I used as warm-up material. I absolutely adore Dena Metzer’s Writing for Your Life: Discovering the Story of Your Life’s Journey (a more spiritual approach to creativity, but some of the deepest writing advice I’ve ever seen and great prompts throughout the book)

The Dream Police

We are what matters to us. Our identity materializes through images, memories, events and through things.

Suddenly there is a knock on your door. A trusted friend enters to warm you that the Dream Police will arrive in twenty minutes. Everything, everything in your life that you have not written down will evaporate upon their arrival. You have a short time—twenty minutes-to preserve what is most previous in your life, what has formed you, what sustains you. Whatever you forget, whatever you have no time to record, will disappear. Everything you want must be acknowledged in its particularity. Everything to be saved, must be named. Not trees, but oak. Not people, but Alicia. As in reality, what has no name, no specificity, vanishes.

*set the timer for 20 minutes and GO. This is great prompt to help us dig deep and go from the abstract to the concrete. Every time I do this exercise, my list looks different.

The Dream Police #2 (also from Writing for Your Life)

Imagine you are an anthropologist who has unearthed this list of “possessions” that once belonged to some unknown person. Write a brief portrait of fleshing that person out, speculating on his or her character and life.

-The anthropologist writes about this subject in the 3rd person, (i.e. he, she, they)

My addition: circle 3-5 items, images, memories from this list that interest you. How might you approach what you have created as the basis for a new character? What kind of trouble or setting might be interesting to explore with this character sketch?

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Besides loving to write fiction, I also love writing nonfiction. Over several decades, I have read and benefited from what’s known as ‘self-help, inspirational and personal transformation’ kinds of books. And, truth be told, I’ve always wanted to write a book that falls in the area of inspiration/personal transformation, especially as it relates to creativity. And, I’ve had my eye on Hay House Publishing for a long time.

Hay House Publishing is known for publishing leading self-help, health and wellness, and personal transformation books and has a very successful thirty-year track record. Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Kris Carr are well-known Hay House authors and many Hay House authors end up on the New York Times bestseller list. Hay House is one of the top twenty major publishers in the U.S. The founder of Hay House was Louise Hay and she wrote You Can Heal Your Life, book that sold millions and was translated into many languages. She helped to create the modern ‘self-help’ genre. I read her book in my twenties, loved it and shared it with everyone I knew. She was at the forefront of making the argument that what we think (and think about) can affect our bodies, now known as the ‘mind-body’ connection.

The U.S. ‘self-improvement market’ is estimated at 9 billion dollars and close to 800 million dollars of that involves books!

Hay House provides an experience for aspiring authors that no other publishing company does. For the past twelve years they have hosted the ‘Hay House Writer’s Workshop’, an intimate in-person event. They share with you the insider information about the publishing process from start to finish (i.e. developing an idea to submitting proposal to building a platform) and you get to hear from some of their most popular authors. The idea is to give aspiring authors a jump-start and leg up. And, here is the truly remarkable thing—if you attend a live event, you are eligible to participate in their exclusive contest (for that event) and submit a book proposal six months later. From every event they pick three winning book proposals with a commitment to publish those books. The Grand Prize is $10,000. You can only enter the contest by attending. And each event is attended by about 250 people. Reid Tracy, the CEO of Hay House said that despite those good odds, they often only end up with 60-80 entries. I like those odds!

And, so for years I have wanted to attend the Hay House Writer’s Workshop. I decided this was the year to commit, so a few weeks ago, I headed to the Houston event. I went with few expectations and can truly say that the experience was phenomenal.

Some highlights:

The People:

For me, there’s few better ways to spend my time than with other writers. I met people from all over the globe who had made their way to Houston. A few nights before I left, I put a note out on the site’s Facebook page to see if people wanted to get together for dinner when we got in as I knew no one in Houston. People responded right away and this became the beginning of a great group of about eight of us. One of the folks I met is a writer in Greensboro, just 45 minutes from where I live—we even know a ton of the same writers. Small world!

I was fascinated by people’s backgrounds and what was motivating them to attend. There were medical doctors, integrative health practitioners, therapists, grandmothers, seasoned writers, entrepreneurs,healers, energy workers, and newbie writers all wanting to know more about Hay House and how to get their book into the world and change people’s lives. Close to 90% percent were interested in writing prescriptive non-fiction and/or a ‘teaching memoir’. I don’t usually get to meet so many people that were interested in personal transformation topics so that was a treat. They were kind, funny and generous. It was also a diverse group of writers which I was very thankful for. I left with a new community of wonderful writers.

The Workshop/Speakers: 

Hay House delivered on providing an excellent, inspiring and informative curriculum. Reid and Kelly Notaras were our informative co-hosts.They spent a lot of time explaining the publishing market and led with the fact that authors need a platform (or the ability to create one) and that out of 80,000 books published a year only about 300 of them sell 50,000 copies (which in publishing is seen as a type of benchmark). They also talked about the range of options for publishing besides the traditional route and in both cases explained how important it is to work with an editor, before you send your proposal or book out the door.

Reid Tracy welcoming us and talking about the power of Hay House books to change people’s lives.

Each presenter provided insight either about the writing process, how to stay inspired, or how they broke in. They were engaging, funny and inspiring.

Mike Dooley shared his story of how he started his ‘notes from the universe’ when he was in a down period and how serving people over time helped him create a major platform. He started with 36 email addresses and now has thousands and thousands of people around the world who are engaged with his message.

Nancy Levin spoke from the heart about how she came to write her own book after being the Hay House events manager for over a decade. I was impressed that she spoke without notes or a fancy Powerpoint. She also talked openly about the value of working with an editor and a ghostwriter. On Sun morning she also led a fantastic meditation workshop that included poetry, very unique.

Robert Holden (toward the right of center), author of Shift Happens started his talk off with us dancing on stage with him to Stevie Wonder! As we had been sitting almost all day, this was such a joy. His talk was about how to write through fear and anxiety. And, he stressed writing as a spiritual practice which resonated with me.

Super inspiring to hear Rebekah Borucki’s journey. She attended a HH Writer’s workshop a few years ago but didn’t submit a proposal. She then worked on the book proposal for ‘You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life’ and platform. She submitted her proposal to Hay House via the traditional route and it got acquired and it is now out. She talked about writing the book of your heart. I also appreciated that they showcased an up and coming author and one who identifies as bi-racial.

The Materials:

I’m not a newbie to writing or publishing. For about a ¼ of the participants the idea of writing a book was new and they didn’t know a lot about publishing platforms, finding a writer’s group, how to put together a proposal, etc. I came knowledgeable about the publishing process, but learned lots! There were two things that got everyone up to speed. One was the long Q&A sessions on Sat afternoon and Sunday where anyone could ask a question and they all got answered as best they could by Reid and Kelly. And, the second was this incredible manual that they gave us that contained a successful proposal of a book that was acquired by Hay House, plus information about publishers in the field besides Hay House that publish in the self-help field, resources for platform building and other tips about both traditional and indie publishing. It was a gold mine of resources and alone was worth the cost of the trip.

I’m glad I got myself to Houston (didn’t do as much sight-seeing as I would have liked) and I know have until April to write my book proposal for the contest and send it in. I’ll keep you posted!

Two conversations, in the past few months, has me thinking a lot about readers and the lengths they will go to for the authors they love. And, as writers, how do we put our attention even more squarely on creating an amazing reader experience.

This author has created very loyal and responsive fans

One of my colleagues recently shared a story with me about how completely determined she was to obtain the latest release of a Louise Penny novel. At the time, she was traveling in Michigan and the bookstore that she usually visits while there had already run out of LP’s novel. She was scheduled to take a plane home later that day. She was so determined to get this novel that she called several bookstores in the area and then wound up driving over 45 minutes to a bookstore that still had the novel in stock. * She almost missed her plane in search of this book. That’s devotion.

One of my dearest friends and I were recently discussing what we were reading. Since I knew that my friend was also a fan of LP, I mentioned that my colleague was looking forward to diving into the latest LP novel. My friend paused and said with intensity, “Louise Penny is the only author that I make sure I do a pre-order for, so that the day of her release, the book arrives at my door. And, then I drop everything for a few hours to read it.”

I was struck by both conversations. Also, on a recent episode of the fantastic ‘The Writer’s Well’ podcast with Rachael Herron and J. Thorn, Rachael mentioned that a writer she knew had fans who would call in sick on the day of a new release. That’s commitment!

Having fans that make it a priority to read your work is every writer’s dream. It made me think about the question posed in the blog post title: What Lengths Are Readers Willing to Go to Read Your Work?

The deeper question is: How do we craft stories that readers can’t put down? Stories that keep them coming back for more.

This, as you already know, is a million-dollar question and there is no magic answer. I do think a piece of the answer is consistently thinking about one’s ideal reader. Over the years, I made an important realization—I am ultimately writing for reader experience and engagement, not just my own personal pleasure. Twenty years ago, I really didn’t think much about reader satisfaction or engagement—it was all about MY MESSAGE. Or, it was all about HOW CLEVERLY I USED LANGUAGE. This sounds so dumb and pretentious as I write it here, but it is the truth. Now, for me, managing and heightening reader experience is where the gold is and is always in the forefront of my mind. The first draft of anything is still just for me, my flights of fancy and risk-taking. Each subsequent draft though, I try to hone the kinds of emotions I want the reader to feel in each scene and across the whole manuscript. I also pay much more attention to where I might lose the reader in a story.

While teaching at the Table Rock Writers Workshop a few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing a fantastic book talk by Emily Nunn, author of The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart and former writer and inventor of the “Table for Two” column in The New Yorker.

She shared the grueling writing process she went through her after book proposal for a memoir (based on her experiences being in a psychiatric facility) was sold with relative ease. Her book is about the circumstances that got her into the facility and after leaving, how she healed by traveling to see friends and cooking together. She shared with us that she really wanted to include a chapter about her time in the psychiatric facility and someone on her team (I can’t remember if it was her agent or editor), said no and told her to take the chapter out. She was very upset with this advice. She had labored over that chapter and to her it represented the heart of the book. They, however, felt that the tone of the chapter was completely out of sync with the rest of the overall upbeat feel and transformational tone of the book. This same person said something along the lines of, “You don’t want to eject the reader from the book.” And, that chapter, in their opinion, though well-written would have created such incongruities for the reader, there was a potential of ejecting them out of the book. Thinking about what ejects the reader out of our work struck me as a useful bit of advice. We never want to eject the reader from our work! Ejecting the reader can look many different ways, right?

For example: Sloppy dialogue, a wandering plot, undeveloped characters, shoehorning one of our darlings into a book that just doesn’t fit (Nunn made it clear that the chapter she was being asked to cut was one of her favorites and she considered it important). Nunn added though that in retrospect, the advice was solid—the chapter didn’t fit in the current version of the book and could work instead as an excellent essay. Her team was thinking about the reader’s experience.

Many writers don’t read their reviews for a variety of reasons. I have found it helpful to look at the reviews of my work and pay attention to emails I receive or in person responses. What they like (or don’t like) are hints to their reader experience.

Sometimes when soliciting feedback on a draft, I will ask someone to mark in the text, exactly where they were able to out the book down. I go to that spot(s) and ask hard questions about what is either not working, or what is working but in a very uninteresting way.

No one starts out writing something that they know readers will devour; if you’re lucky you grow into a gifted storyteller over time. The writers who consistently create work that makes people stay up late, almost miss planes, and tell others about it have cracked something valuable about reader experience. The answers are out there in others’ work and our own, if we are brave enough to dig for them.

How do you understand the role of the reader’s experience? Are there questions you ask yourself when rewriting that focus on reader experience? I’d love to know!

*You may be wondering why she didn’t order it on Amazon—she doesn’t use Amazon and prefers to support independent bookstores.

Photo Credit-Louise Penny

Photo Credit-Emily Nunn


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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