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The Process of Writing a New York Times Bestseller in One Month (Part 2 of 2)

You've got the ingredients and recipe for writing.  Get cooking!

 

In my last post I told you the ingredients Mark Divine needed to cook up a New York Times Bestseller.  If you haven’t already, notice that none of those things have anything to do with actual writing.  Once he had hired me to be his writing coach, we had to produce an entire book from scratch in less than a month.  We needed a strategy and process.

 

Well, that’s a lie that it was completely from scratch.  He had the workout routines already planned out.  He’d written out the theory.  The content lived in his experience and memories.  But it was as dry and empty as a plate of fossilized steakbones.  My actual words to him were, “You’ve figured out how to make an interesting topic boring.”  We needed spices and meat and some expert cookin’ to make a succulent and flavorful dish worth serving the public…

 

1. Strategy

Mark had two things going for him that most fitness instructors don’t…

 

  1. He’d been a Navy SEAL with untold stories that would hook and inspire anyone who began reading his book.
  2. He retired as a Navy SEAL Commander after serving for 20 years.

No one chooses to read a book called 8 Weeks to SEALFit without dreaming that he or she can be as fit as a Navy SEAL.  Mark had some of the coolest stories to tell on the planet.  No one would be satisfied unless we told them.  Readers didn’t want to gut out some prescribed exercises.  We needed to plunge them into the Navy SEAL experience.  I looked at all the material Mark had sent me and decided that BUD/s training camp was where we would start.  By the end of the book they would have stepped through a doorway into the physical, mental and spiritual outlook of a Navy SEAL.

 

If you only think about what you want to write, you’ll never be more than a mediocre writer.  Get to know your audience.  What do they care about most?  What are their secret hopes and dreams?  What do they wish they could pry from your vulnerable insides?  Mark thought it was his workout regimen.  I knew it was the experience of life as a Navy SEAL.

 

2. The Writing Process

I just looked over at the number of revisions for this blog at the halfway point… six.  Yikes.  Even for an experienced writer that amount of editing before completing a rough draft stifles creativity.  Mark wasn’t an experienced writer.  He didn’t need to write perfectly.  I could smooth out all the rough edges as his editor.  He just needed to write quickly.

 

I divided up every writing assignment into manageable chapters with subheadings that usually followed the pattern of story, explanation, story, workout.  Then I gave him this writing process:

 

  1. Write these quickly.  Get them out onto the page.  Don’t worry about mistakes or edits.  Just let thoughts flow from your mind.  You should be able to do this in 30 minutes.  Since you’re still a learner, I’ll let you make it last up to an hour, but no more.  Once you’ve finished or gotten to the hour mark, take a break.  Do something else.  Let your mind play and rest for at least 2 hours.  If you didn’t finish, come back and write as quickly as you can, taking breaks as necessary, until you’re finished.  Never take more than an hour at any one time to write.   Don’t try to edit.  The less you edit now, the easier it will be to finish.  The goal is writing to completion, not writing perfectly.  Then let your mind rest overnight.
  2. When you wake in the morning, look over what you wrote the day before.  Edit it once using the 5 steps I gave you at the No One Told Me How to Write Workshop at Wizard Academy.  Use the same pattern of editing for an hour and doing something else for 2 hours.  Once you’ve finished editing it once, send it to me.  It won’t be perfect.  But it will be good.  I’ll look over it and edit it for you.  You’ll be amazed at the writing you’ve produced.

Every one of my writing workshop exercises requires students to write more than seems possible in a tiny time window.  When the left brain can’t process quickly enough, imagination takes over.  Creativity blossoms.  Too many of us stifle the imaginative right side of our brain with editing before we’re done.  We shoot down each idea it sends us and then say that we can’t think of anything.

 

If you want creativity in your writing, stop editing before you finish a draft.  You may write some clunker sentences in there.  You can take them out later.  But if you don’t write the clunkers, you’ll stop yourself before you discover the diamonds.

 

3. The Results

Nearly every other day, Mark sent me a written chapter edited once.  They had flaws, but they also tingled with the flavor of storytelling magic.  I didn’t let him rest before giving him his next assignment.  As soon as he completed a chapter, I gave him the next one.  While he was writing, I would edit and then send him the finished chapter, letting him know what he had done well, what I had changed and why.  Three days before our deadline, we finished.  My work was done.  He had an excellent book ready to become a bestseller and keep selling.

 

Most of you don’t have thousands of dollars to afford a writing coach like me to tell you what you need to do.  Don’t let that stop you.  Gather your research and organize your chapters and subheadings first. (Generate your chapters and subheadings in 37 minutes using bestselling author Keith Miller’s process.  It’s the same one I teach in my workshops, and it’s free.)  Then use the process I’ve given you above.  Once you’ve finished your book, let it rest for a couple weeks before going back and editing it all the way through.

 

If you’re really smart, you’ll publish each chapter or subchapter along the way as a blog post and build a following for your book.  By the time you’re ready to do a final edit of your book and offer it for sale, you’ll have followers eager to gobble up your first meal of words.

 

You’ve got the ingredients.  You’ve got a recipe.  All you need is some fire to stoke your ovens…

 

I BELIEVE IN YOU.

 

Start cookin’,

Peter.

 

No One Told Me How to Write Workshop - Wizard AcademyPS: Get two days of writing inspiration, feedback and exercises at Wizard Academy this January in Austin.  They just posted the “No One Told Me How to Write Workshop“, the same course Mark Divine took.  3 people begged for it and have already signed up.  All food, wine and a room in 1 of 2 student mansions is included…

 

PPS: One of my students from last January just finished his first young adult novel.  I’m really proud of him.  Check out Thinkwave

 

 

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What a Fitness Coach Needed to Write a New York Times Bestseller

Peter Nevland and Mark Divine's muscles

 

I wasn’t excited when I walked in the room.  Only four people had signed up to take my “No One Told Me How to Write” workshop at Wizard Academy (it’s not a Harry Potter theme park) in Austin, TX.  Half of them were missing.  Dennis and Mark sat expectantly.

 

“Hey guys!” I said, trying to mask my disappointment.  “Looks like you guys are gonna get one very personalized writing workshop.”

 

“Looking forward to it…  Mark Divine,” he said, locking my hand in his grip more than shaking it.  Lines creased his tan face, running into a mouth filled with braces.  I guessed his age at somewhere close to 50.  He stood about 6’2″, 200 pounds, and nothing short of a train could have knocked him out of his ramrod straight posture.  He turned out to be a former Navy SEAL commander who owned and operated several businesses.

 

Dennis greeted me with less authority.  At least fifteen years older than Mark, his posture slouched more, but his eyes twinkled just as brightly.  He’d served in the military and been involved in Austin politics for the last 30 or so years.  Both had oodles of stories.  “Maybe this class will be fun after all,” I thought.

 

After the first exercise, Dennis had clearly outwritten Mark.  I could tell he read novels for fun.  He mixed themes and imagery like a well-trained chef.  Some of his sentences were a bit long and complex, but he had serious writing talent.  Mark’s writing was far more basic.  Being verbs dominated his sentences.  Unnecessary connecting words cluttered his creative imagery.  Every once in a while a sharply defined image would pierce the haze, but I could tell that he needed practice.  I called an audible.

 

“Edit the first piece you wrote so that no sentence has more than seven words.”  They began chopping and rearranging.  Then they read.

 

Dennis had improved his first attempt.  Mark’s piece had undergone an extreme writing makeover.  Action grabbed me by the ears and forced me to listen.  Dennis and I sat open-mouthed, in awe of his transformation.  Throughout the next two days, I noted how Mark attacked each assignment.  He didn’t become Hemingway, but he definitely improved.  By the time class ended on the second day, both Mark and Dennis had outlined the next book they would write.  They both had the stuff.  I wondered if they would follow through to finish what they’d started.

 

While eating sushi, Mark told us about his SealFit training center, his online Navy Seal gear website and his plans to write three new books.  “If I hadn’t already agreed to work with another co-writer, I’d ask you to help me write Way of the Seal.”  I thanked him and grimaced internally, enjoying my sushi just a little bit less.  Before he left Wizard Academy, Mark recorded this video…

 

 

A couple weeks later (February 4) I received this email from Mark showing me a section from Way of the Seal:

 

Peter, I am working with a co-writer on this one…would be awkward to have major changes – but your insights will be very helpful.  HOWEVER – I have ANOTHER manuscript due to McMillan on March 17 – called “8 Weeks to SEALFIT” – it is a very different book – a fitness training book with a big dose of mental toughness.  It has been edited, but I would love to have you review it, and if you think you can significantly improve the enjoy ability – public’s response – best seller status of the book I would be thrilled to engage you to edit it!  let me know thoughts.

 

A week later I sent him my no-holds-barred feedback:

 

1. Great topic.  Big market potential, especially if you get the right marketing strategy behind you.  Do you have that?  Are you seriously committed to making this book soar?  Can your publisher swing the hammer?  If not, don’t bother reading further.  It’s not worth the amount of work it will take me or the amount of money it will cost you to have me edit it.  Great writing won’t get people to initially buy it.  But it will make them recommend it to others and cause the publisher to get behind it and put everything they’ve got into it.  If you’re committed and have the resources and understanding to promote this book, continue…

2. You’ve made a very compelling topic boring.  Stop telling them what you’re going to teach them and teach them.  You spend way too much time talking about your life and explaining why stuff is true.  That’s not what attracts people to SealFit.  Plunge them into the experience.  Tell them what to do.  Then illustrate the why afterwards with a great story and mental understanding.

 

Mark hired me to be his writing coach with about a month to completely rewrite and edit his next book, 8 Weeks to SEALFIT.  After rearranging the chapters and charting out what we needed to do, I began giving him assignments, one chapter at a time.  I gave him a specific writing process (I’ll outline it in detail in my next post) to keep him from over-thinking any of his writing.  He sent me completed writing tasks within a day or two.  Once I received them, I immediately gave him his next assignment and began editing what he’d sent.

 

The chapters and days ticked away.  A day before our March 17th deadline, I sent him the completed manuscript, and he sent it to his publisher.  They were thrilled.  They scheduled it to release sometime in the middle of 2014.

 

A couple weeks ago I looked up Mark Divine on Amazon to see if 8 Weeks to SEALFIT had come out yet.  It had, so I asked him what had happened with our book and whether I could get a copy.  The reply he sent made me do my happy dance:

 

NYT Best Seller list. I have gotten great feedback for it as well.

 

Short and sweet as always.  A fitness book that’s a New York Times BestSeller.  Way to go, Mark.  It’s one thing to take a workshop and learn powerful techniques.  It’s another to apply them until what you’ve dreamed stands sparkling in front of you.  Mark didn’t have the talent that some do.  But he had 3 things essential for writing success…

 

1. A Platform

I had no idea when he walked into my workshop that Mark had built a successful crossfit business and Navy Seal website and amassed thousands of email followers.  It’s why a publisher had already agreed to distribute his book before he ever wrote it.  They knew he would put in the work to make his book a reality just like he’d done to serve his customers.

 

If you don’t have a group of people who’s already following you online or listening to you give talks or lectures, you need to develop one.  It’s called a platform.  Start posting interesting material or even the content for the book you want to publish online for free.  It’s as good as copyrighting it.  No one will steal it.  And even if they do, you’re a great writer.  You can write a bunch more, right?

 

2. Willingness to Improve His Writing

With all the people who followed him, Mark could have easily written his book and published it.  He would have sold plenty of copies to his followers, but that’s as far as it would have gone.

 

Instead he committed to improve his writing.  He worked at it.  He signed up for a workshop, took a week off work and paid a couple thousand dollars to travel across the country to attend.  There was homework.  He continued working when the class finished.  He made mistakes.

 

If you’re not willing to practice and fail, you’ll never find the joy in writing.  That always comes after failure and buckets of sweat.  And once you relish standing on top of that mountain, you see other bigger mountains to climb.

 

3. Humility to Ask for Help

With less than a month to improve his book, Mark knew he needed an outside perspective to make a real difference.  He asked for help.  With an ally to train, encourage and improve his work, it became something he was proud to publish.  He got behind it.  The publisher got behind it.  His platform got behind it.  It became a New York Times Bestseller.

 

You don’t always have what it takes.  Asking for help may be what you need to breathe life into whatever dream you’ve kept to yourself.

 

My hats off to Mark Divine.  Now what about you reading this?  You’re not going to let anything stop you, are you?

Peter.

 

How To Write Awesomeness and Get Away With It Writing Workshop - Unit 1PS: You can learn and apply the same principles Mark and Dennis did in Peter’s new online, interactive writing workshop, “How to Write Awesomeness and Get Away With It” for individuals.  By the end of Unit 1 you’ll have learned what makes writing powerful, what doesn’t and a technique to overcome writer’s block.  You’ll have produced your own writing and get feedback on it.  Your imagination will find new inspiration.  Just click on the link above for a preview and the link to the course.  Everyone who reads your writing will thank you.

 

PPS: “How to Write Awesomeness for Teachers and Classrooms” will be available soon.  We’re just finishing editing it.  Then we’ll produce Unit 2 and Unit 3 for individuals, teachers and classrooms.  Our plan is to finish them this Fall.  We’ll let you know when they’re ready.

 

 

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Website Copy People Want to Read

Animals don't love stories, but humans do

 

In five seconds name the last website you loved reading.  Can you think of one?  If you did, I bet it was a blog, news site or some other web address containing a story.  I’m pretty certain you didn’t think of an online store or the website of a small, local business.

 

Why is that?  Think about it.  We remember reading stories we love more than any other kind of writing.  Sounds important.

 

Now think about the last time you shopped on Amazon, Zappos or Best Buy.  The titles and item pictures made you click to investigate a product further.  Then what did you spend the most time reading?  It wasn’t product descriptions.

 

Unsolicited reviews push you to buy or deny.  The misspellings and bad grammar convince you they’re authentic.  The simpler they are, the more you hear a real person telling their story.  If you’re like me you spend a little too much time reading them.  Some of them make me angry.  Some I discredit.  Others I buy hook line and sinker.

 

Real Stories by Real People – Fascinating

Stories written by real people are always fascinating to humans.  I’m not going to explain why humans love stories, because that would take too long and not help you as much.  And I can’t speak for raccoons, birds, crocodiles or squirrels.  They care more about eating, pooping and mating.  All I know is that people enjoy websites more and can be convinced to give you money if you write stories that sound like they come from a real person.

 

do you have one piece of basic, website 101 advice and one link to a resource I could share…?” my good friend and fellow Wizard of Ads partner, Tim Miles, asked.

 

Write like you talk,” I told him.

 

Check out my logic…

  1. We remember reading stories more than any other kind of writing
  2. People can convinced to give you money if you write stories that sound like they come from a real person

 

Seems hard to deny when you look at it that way.  Consider a couple other examples:  A commercial that dared to say all the things that no proper lady should say about poop has twenty-four million views and counting and is selling boatloads of Poopourri.  A terribly ugly, outdated website has over 40,000 loyal followers eagerly awaiting an email from Roy H. Williams, produced millions of dollars in business growth for them and him and built a magical business school campus with no debt, all from donations.  If people respond to their authentic, real voices, they’ll respond to you.

 

Writing the Right Stories

So how do you know which stories will make people choose you?

 

Ask yourself the most common questions you get asked by your customers.  The whole purpose of your website is to provide people the services they’re looking for.  The best way you can do that is by answering their questions.  Do that before they ask you, and you’ll convince them that you’re the expert.  They’ll think you know what they’re looking for.  If you’re a business owner, and you don’t deal directly with your customers, ask your employees.  Make a list of the top ten questions.  Then answer them the way you would talk.

 

Put them where everyone can find them easily.  Don’t stick ’em in an FAQ section.  Pretend that you care about your customers’ questions more than what you want to say.  Put their questions first.  On the home page.  In the pages they view most.  I hear that’s generally good for business and for life.  You’ll be amazed at how much people begin to like you and your company when you simply answer your customers questions without boasting about yourself.  You’ll make more money, too.

 

If it’s hard for you to write like you talk, answer your most common questions out loud with someone recording you. Then transcribe the answers exactly as you said them.  The whole goal is for them to forget that they’re reading and feel like they’re listening to you in their imagination.   Or as Chris Maddock, another Wizard of Ads Partner friend and genius writer, says, “Make the words disappear so that they only see the story.”

 

A Couple Real Writing Resources…

Need to see what that looks like?  Go to Pass One Hour’s website.  Tim Miles helped them write that.  And they’ve seen double digit growth year after year since he started working with him.  “The reason Pass only grew 18% this year is that he’s almost reached the market potential in his little town,” Tim told me sheepishly.  Tough problem to have.

 

If you still don’t think you can write like you talk, check out ShortcutBlogging.com.  You can pay them money to record your voice and generate lots of blog posts and webcopy that will make your website visitors happy.

 

I’m pretty sure you’ll spend a good time reading what both those websites wrote.  Hopefully, they’ll inspire you.  Even better, I hope your website becomes the next one that someone loves reading.

 

PS:  Your employees could learn these techniques and practice doing them in one day in my How to Write Stories That Make People Buy What You Sell workshop.

 

 

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2013 U.S. Fall Tour Starts Today!

 

Are you excited? I’m sooo excited!!! Vicki and I are just about to walk out the door for the 2013 U.S. Fall Tour. We’ll be teaching writing workshops for schools, universities, businesses plus some one-man shows and Tree of Psalms preview performances. We’re even bringing our new tent to camp out whenever we feel like it.

 

So if you want to meet up and camp, share some Spoken Groove, talk about the Tree of Psalms, or just have tons of fun, we’ll be there. Oh, and when you watch the video, don’t bother about the kissing part. I was just a little too excited from playing with a new camera in a new studio that I’ll soon install at home. You might see more of these…

 

Our tour schedule (1st 11 days):

Tues, Oct. 1, Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, TX
Wed, Oct. 2, 7pm, Thrive Youth (Christ Fellowship), Fort Worth, TX
Mon, Oct. 7, Baylor School, Chattanooga, TN
Wed, Oct. 9, 6:30pm, Morrison Hill Youth, Kingston, TN
Fri, Oct. 11, Lower Your Cost of Customer Acquisition, Norfolk, VA
See more details at HowToWriteWorkshops.com/calendar

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Want Your Students to Pay Attention?

Before you read this, watch this video. The first minute and forty seconds gift-wrap one of the best lessons on how to teach. The next two minutes show you the impact on kids. The final eight and a-half minutes may inspire you for life.

 

 

What did you learn? By the time I finished, tears kissed my cheeks. Once they dried, here’s what I noticed…

 

1. Students pay attention when you put yourself in the lesson.

When he made a class announcement, he turned into the annoying announcement system complete with silly noises.  He didn’t talk about a pumpkin exploding; he did it himself in class.  He let fire shoot from his hand to the ceiling.  He laid down and put the bed of nails on his own chest.

 

Students pay attention when they’re entertained.  And as Mr. Wright said, “as soon as you get the kid asking how or why, I can rope ’em in.”

 

You can rope ’em in if you make what you’re teaching come alive in front of them.

 

2. Students pay more attention when you put them in the lesson.

Once they ask how, Mr. Wright lets them participate.  Students pilot the leaf blower hovercraft.  Students surround and help load the potato launcher.  A student lights the fireball in Mr. Wright’s hand.  A student slams the sledgehammer down on Mr. Wright’s chest.

 

No one falls asleep.  Learning comes through action, not memorization.  If you take a risk with them, they’ll start taking the risk of learning.  That’s why students love Mr. Wright.  That’s why they love you.

 

3. Students pay most attention when they know you care.

Mr. Wright points out that school lasts six hours a day, leaving another eighteen hours that affect a student’s life.  “Schools can change a lot, but we also have to realize that they go home to a completely different environment.”  They may not open up immediately.  But when they believe that you care, they’ll tell you what’s happening to them outside of school.  Your concern is a ray of hope against the dragons that seek to swallow their dreams.

 

4. Why is more important than How.

Why are you a teacher?  If it’s because you’re passionate to see kids eyes light up with joy, they’ll marvel as you shine like the sun.  If it’s just to cash a paycheck or fulfill an obligation, they’ll pay attention to something that shines brighter.

 

But take heart.  Even the parts you don’t like about yourself will win them over, if you let them.  You’re already a hero.  Don’t be afraid to let them see it.

 

Your friend,

Peter.

 

PS: I’ve been asked to give my “Teach Students How to Write… and Love it” workshop on October thirty-first to a bunch of administrators and teachers at a curriculum conference in Arkansas.  Check out that page and follow the links to contact us if you or your teachers need my help.

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Because YOUR Self-Promotion Sucks

Why Your Self-Promotion Sucks

This guy's message is a little obvious

I just consulted a musician in England.  When I asked him what he did he said, “Well, uh… I guess… uh… it’s hard to explain really.  I write songs… and I play gigs…”

 

That’s a terrible way to make an impression that someone will remember.  I say this not because I’m the world’s best at it.  I struggled for years trying to tell people that I was a Spoken Groove artist who performed with an incredible guitarist in bars, festivals, churches, universities and business meetings.

 

“But what’s your show like, Peter?  Is it music?  Is it rap?  Is it funky white boy dancing?”

 

“Well… uh… it’s like Dr. Seuss took a walk through the ghetto and decided to become the white, jive king.”

 

That always made them smile.  But they still had no clue.

 

When I started teaching writing workshops in schools, I noticed how much easier it was for people to tell others what I do.

 

“What do you do, Peter?”

 

“I teach writing workshops in schools.”

 

“What ages?”

 

“Middle Schools and High Schools”

 

“Wow, cool.  How long?”

 

“An hour per class gets them understanding the simple tools that make writing powerful, producing their own work and marveling at how much fun it is to do something they thought was boring.”

 

“And how much does that cost?”

 

“$700 for an entire day of workshops at one school.”

 

See how much easier it is to tell someone about school workshops than Dr. Seuss, funky white boy dancing Spoken Groove?  Here are the easy steps you can use to apply this to your own art / business / story…

 

1. Put Yourself in a Box.

Limit your focus to the main people who like what you do.  Exclude the others.  You’ll find more like the ones who like you.  You won’t have to bother with the ones who don’t.  You’ll become king of the “Summer Clothes for Weasels” store.  Once you’ve conquered that mountain you’ll be prepared with experience to branch out to reach the weasels at other times of the year.  And then you can apply your creativity to the clothes of other mammals.  Artists hate doing this.  Businesses do it more readily, but still not very well.  The ones who decide to focus get signed, promoted and supported, and sell lots of whatever they create.

 

Example:  I’m a singer/songwriter who sounds like Mumford & Sons and weaves musical stories about the challenges of college students, using my guitar, stomp box, loop pedal and warbly voice.  Anyone can get excited about and repeat that.

 

2. Decide What’s Free and How Much You Get Paid.

Sometimes exposure to a crowd is worth more than getting paid.  Speak, perform, write, cook, etc… for free when it’s a big group who doesn’t know you.  It’ll result in people asking you how much you’ll charge them for what you did well (if you’re any good).  Then be ready with a number ahead of time so you can say your “normal price” confidently.

 

The only difference between a person who gets paid $500 to speak and someone who gets paid $50 is a decision ahead of time  (Feel free to apply to your price range).  Even if someone doesn’t have $500 to pay you, once you’ve said $500, they’re going to offer $400, $300 or $150, at the lowest.  That’s way more than $50.  If they don’t pause or have to think about it for a little bit, you charge too little.  Money’s good, especially when you do good things with it.

 

3. Make Sure Your Supporters Get Paid.

Artists think that the quality of their art drives success.  Businesses think that the quality of their products sells them.  Speakers think that their ability to inspire a crowd puts them in demand.  Those matter, but not to make you successful.  If the audience isn’t getting more than they expect, they won’t keep up with you or tell anyone about you.  If a record label or publisher isn’t making money or increasing their profile, they’ll stop working with you.  If a restaurant who’s letting you play dinner music isn’t getting more customers or increasing their average dinner ticket with alcohol, appetizers, etc… they’ll stop paying you to play.

 

Find out what will make your investor or fans happy and make sure they get more than they hoped.  Even better, align what you get paid with them reaching their goals.  If you’re playing at a restaurant, charge them a small amount at the beginning and have it increase monthly as their food/beverage sales go up.  If you’re a performer, put on a silly costume, do a crazy dance, decorate your stage with something huge or tiny, or interact with the crowd more than they expected.  If you’re a business, deliver a better experience or service than they could have imagined.  Your audience/customers will love you.  The people who support you will love you.  You’ll make money, even before you ever become famous.

 

4. Tie your Social Media Efforts to the 3 Goals Above.

Do it.  Keep doing it.  Stay consistent at doing it.  Pretty soon you won’t be self-promoting.  You’ll have a crowd of people happy to promote you to the world.  And that’s way better than one person shoving a bullhorn in your face to make you listen to him talk about himself.

 

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A 5-minute Video Narrative Writing Lesson

It’s only basketball commentary.  But watch this video from Henry Abbott and TruHoopTV.  It’s a 5-minute writing lesson that will make you look like a master.  Notice how the words and video dance over a melancholy music bed:

 

Henry Abbot explains the despicable nature of hard fouls in his TruHoopTV basketball video

(When you click it will open a separate window. Return once you’ve watched it.)

 

  1. “Artistry”, “Showtime”, “…Magician with the ball”, “…Cast his Spell”.  These unexpected, vivid words lock your attention on the “Spectacular” in front of you.
  2. The music has enough juice to set the mood but not enough to obscure the meaning of the words.
  3. The video freezes when he has something really important to say.
  4. The slow motion amplifies the poetry of movement.
  5. He lets you feel hope and then steals it unexpectedly with “the dirty foul”.
  6. Every claim he makes coincides with visual, recorded evidence.
  7. You can’t help but agree with him when he delivers his pedantic, “hard work on defense” message at the end.  You’re the devil if you don’t.  But without the music and video genius, no one would have cared.

Think you can apply that to spice up your story or spoken word or to get people to listen to your ads?  🙂
Peter.

 

PS: Apply more magic to your advertisingImprove your test scores at school.  Check out the benefits of Peter Nevland’s Writing Workshops and get him in your town…

 

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Tell me How to Begin

a jolt of nasal spray

What do I want to write about? 

How do I begin?? 

Why won’t anything come into my mind???

 

Calm down.  Those are three thoughts that just popped into your mind.  Write them down on a piece of paper, or type them on your computer.

 

Which thoughts? 

 

The “What do I…” “How do I…” “Why won’t anything…” thoughts.  Write them down.  Get them out of your head.  Now your page doesn’t look so empty.  You probably had quite a few ideas of what to say that popped into your mind before you panicked and wrote those limiting words.

 

But they weren’t any good.

 

Who says?

 

Me.

 

How do you know what other people will like?  How do you know what you’ll like?  You just know what feelings you’re carrying right now.

 

But my writing’s never any good.

 

Look, either you write down one of the phrases or images that keeps popping in your head, or I’m going to pick one for you.

 

Fine!

 

Nasal Spray

 

What?

 

Nasal Spray.  Start with a jolt of nasal spray.

 

What do I want to write about?  How do I begin?  Why won’t anything come into my mind???  All I’ve got is a jolt of nasal spray.  It feels like fire and freedom all at once. 

I miss those days. 

The hours spent creating with carefree freedom. 

Whatever captured my imagination splatted instantly onto a page. 

Jolts of electricity and exhiliration surged through my sinuses.

I wrote with fury, 

Burned the fires of late night torches inventing worlds.

I mainlined drops of artistic Afrin day and night.

Crickets danced with elephants while I worked.

Nymphs stroked my forehead with peace while I slept.

I breathed easily.

If only those days would visit me again…

 

See, I new you had it in you.

 

But why does beginning to write have to be so hard?

 

Things worth doing usually are hard.

 

Yeah. 

 

Decide.

 

What?

 

Decide you’re going to begin.  Pick a topic.  Any one will do.  Then write until you can’t write any more about it.  It’ll give you confidence to do it the next time.

 

But what if it’s no…

 

It’s easier to be good than you think.  And if it’s no good, at least you got it out of your head.  Sometimes you have to get out the poop to get to the good stuff.  If you never try, you’ll never write anything good or bad.  If you want to just watch tv, I guess you can live that way.  A lot of people do.

 

Do you think I have potential?

 

Everyone’s got potential.  Fewer people have commitment.

 

Sounds scary.

 

Maybe, but it’s good.  Commitment turns vision into accomplishment, knowledge into experience, doubt into confidence, hubris into humility.

 

But is it hard?

 

Of course it’s hard.  Good things are rarely easy.  Some people have the hardest time just receiving a gift.

 

Oh my gosh, I know.  I can’t do anything for my mom without her having to do something back for me…  oh… thanks.

 

For what?

 

For the gift.

 

What gift?

 

How to begin.

 

Oh, that.  You’re welcome.  Enjoy it.  Keep deciding.  Keep committing.  You’re doing way better than you think.

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Writing Dialogue for Dummies

Writing dialogue that's repetitive gets you a dunce cap!

 

“Gimme yours.”

 

“No.”

 

“I said, give it to me.”

 

“Uh-uh.”

 

“I’m gonna tell your mom if you don’t.”

 

“Fine.”

 

“I WANT YOUR KIT KAT!!!  GIMME IT NOW, YOU…”

 

Dialogue.  Makes you feel characters.  Your imagination hostage to the writer’s will.  Sights, smells and scenery all beam vivid life as your senses search for context cues.  You’re only free when the prose takes back over.

 

Think about that.  Can you remember ever closing a book or turning off a TV show in the middle of a dialogue exchange?  If so, I bet it was an emergency… or the world’s worst dialogue.  That’s the power of good dialogue.  You learn without learning.  Enjoy without thinking.  Your brain sucks it up like a starving vacuum cleaner.

 

“So how ya write it?”

 

“Hoped you’d ask…”

 

1. Simple. Sweet. Fragments.

No one composes when they talk.  Most of us aren’t that smart.  Look at the first dialogue exchange I wrote.  Two characters.  Neither of them say more than 8 words at any one time.  29 words.  7 lines.  An average of 4.1 words per line.  4 sentences.  You don’t even know their names.  I didn’t even put a “he said” at the end of any line.  But you can see the scene.

 

Now look at the paragraph, starting with “Think about that…”  58 words.  7 sentences.  Just over 3 lines.  8.3 words per sentence.  Just under 20 words per line.  Your left brain has to work harder while your right brain waits for it to catch up with the party.

 

In general, the shorter and choppier your lines of dialogue, the better.  Notice how many of the lines I’ve written aren’t complete sentences.  Makes your imagination fill in the rest.  That’s how people talk.  They use facial expressions, body positions, hand gestures, their surroundings, in addition to what they say, to make the fragments make sense.  Perfect grammar is for essays and court documents.  Who wants to read those in their free time?

 

Look again at the first dialogue exchange.  Which kid do you like better, the one who gives one word answers, or the one who talks in complete sentences that got sent to the corner in the picture?  That’s because people who actually talk in complete sentences without contractions sound like pompous jerks or know-it-alls.  Use that to make your audience like one character more than another.  The shorter the answer, the more you trust someone.  The longer the answer, the more you feel like they’re just talking about themselves to make themselves sound good and repeating themselves and going on and on and…  Whoops.

 

2. You have to hear it.

Can’t write dialogue ya haven’t heard.  Nope.  Has to be listened to.  Scraped off the street.  Look at what Aaron Sorkin, dialogue writing genius wrote:

 

“I send students to eavesdrop at coffee shops, malls, hospital waiting rooms or cafeterias and take notes about how real people talk. Students return to class with pages of notes and typically report that real conversations are more fragmented than they expected. Together, we pick a juicy interaction and mess with it as a whole class, then have students make a conversation fragment they have collected more interesting. As they work, students should read their dialogue out loud, making sure that the heightened language does not sound too artificial: “Would you like me to introduce more ideas about dialogue today?” asked Todd helpfully. Ick!”

 

Imagine someone saying it.  Write it.  Say it out loud.  Then edit.  You probably have to cut out half the words.  Repeat until it sounds natural.  Real.  Uncontrived.

 

Got it?  That’s it.  2 simple rules for the dummy in all our brains.

1. Simple. Sweet. Fragments.

2. You have to hear it.

Go try it for yourself.

 

Think you need to learn more before you try?  Here are some great posts that will overload your brain with knowledge.  I suggest going to them after you’ve attempted writing the basics.  In fact, do that now.  Don’t take long.  Write a snippet of dialogue in the comments below.  Write it.  NOW.  I’ll tell you how and why you did well… unless you truly were awful.  In that case, I’ll tell you how to fix it.

 

Resources: Writing Dialogue That Doesn’t Suck

How to Write Dialogue that Matters: Lessons from Aaron Sorkin – great post.  Lots of examples.  This guy’s smart.

Sorkin on Sorkin: Learn Dialogue Techniques from the Man Himself – pretty cool stuff about how dialogue sounded like music to him.  Apparently Aaron Sorkin’s a pretty good dialogue writer.  😉

Ernest Hemingway – he won the Nobel Prize or somethin’

John Steinbeck – another Nobel prize winner.  Whatever. 

Tennessee Williams – a somewhat successful playwright

some plays by a little guy named William Shakespeare 

 

Basically if you know a great work of literature, it’s probably got great dialogue in it.  Read, you fools.  Read!

 

Resources: Writing Dialogue That Sucks

Writing Dialogue: How to Write Dialogue in a Story – I’m probably being mean by including this.  The guy tries.  But I had no better idea after I read it.  Maybe it needs examples or creativity or something…

Grammar Girl: How to Write Dialogue – You can tell that a grammar website won’t have the best dialogue advice.  Parallel structure?  Proper pronoun procedure??  WHO CARES???

 

Okay, okay, I’ll stop being mean now.  Go write and feel free to let me know if this didn’t help you one bit.

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The Details are Juicy…

a screaming couple in this photo illustrates the power of surrounding your writing with specific details

“Kevin screeched out of his driveway and roared down Devers Avenue.  Her words still stung his ears.  “Why should I tell you my feelings?  You don’t care.  You can’t even remember to take the garbage out on Tuesdays.”  Shannon had been making accusations a lot since her sister’s divorce became final last Tuesday.  Living 3 months with unpacked boxes devouring each room in their new home hadn’t helped her feel any more settled…”

 

What do you know about Kevin from this paragraph?  Think about it for a moment.  I made up two people, told you their names and the name of their street, included specific quotes one of them had made, gave you the backstory of Shannon’s sister’s divorce and let you know that they’d moved 3 months ago and still hadn’t unpacked.  You even know that their garbage gets picked up on Tuesdays.

 

Your brain has also assumed that Kevin and Shannon are married, or at least live together.  Their relationship doesn’t look too hot.  They’re probably a young couple.  If you continue reading, you’ll discover that they live in Louisville, Kentucky, at 5306 Devers Avenue.  Kevin manages the Highland Cleaners on Bardstown Road and has struggled with a gambling addiction that he tries to hide from Shannon.  Shannon’s been thinking about Brian Summers, her 11th grade chemistry lab partner that she saw in Food Lion yesterday.  He lived in Hopkinsville before being shot and killed, along with his mom, by his dad today.

 

The Power of Specific Details

Did I make that story up or is it completely true?  You can tap into worlds in people’s imaginations if you include specific details.  Yes, you still need to choose interesting verbs and nouns with shape, color, names of places and familiar things.  They elevate your details from the boredom of a police report to an entertaining novel.  But if you don’t have the details, your audiences’ left brains won’t believe that your writing has any connection to reality.  They’ll stop your imagination from engaging before it ever gets started.

 

The story above mixes some current news stories with google map details and some of my own imagination. But it sounds convincing enough for you to believe it’s true.  Look at the difference without the specifics…

 

“He screeched out of his driveway and roared down the street. Her words still stung his ears.  She’d been making accusations a lot lately…”

 

Can you feel your brain’s hunger for details?  Which street?  What’s his name?  What words still stung his ears?  Why has she been making accusations?  Yes, it’s still a compelling image.  But I’d better answer the questions in the audiences’ mind quickly before they tune out.

 

Using Specifics in Your Writing

Specific details are the only cure for your audiences’ intellectual appetite.  Talented writers satisfy this instinctively or consciously in two ways:

  1. They make up a fictitious character using a person they know, or a modern-day story they’ve read and surround them with details from a world that they have personally experienced.  Agatha Christie mysteries, Charles Dickens‘ novels and Steven Spielberg‘s, Lincoln, all fall into this category.
  2. They completely make up entire histories, languages and worlds of detail to make their imaginative story believable.  Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings, Gene Roddenberry‘s Star Trek and Ray Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451 fit into this style.

 

In both cases, the amount of research and detail boggles the mind.  Tolkien spent more than a decade writing detailed histories that he never used or only mentioned in one sentence of his books.  Gene Roddenberry hired engineers, scientists and linguists to create believable futuristic technical terms and alien tongues.  Steven Spielberg assembled teams of historians and screenwriters to create meticulously crafted stage props that occupy one second of the movie and rarely come into focus.  Making stories believable is hard work.

 

Even C.S. Lewis, who wrote his beloved series, The Chronicles of Narnia quickly and effortlessly for children, had spent a lifetime studying literature, mythology and the Bible.  The characters and themes he creates just happen to include details from each plus circumstances that he himself experienced.  Some people have more natural talent than others.

 

If you want to make your stories believable, without a decade of research or a lifetime of intellectual study, pretend that you’re writing to or about a specific person or event you know.  Choose details that have actually happened to them.  Write their dialogue with words you’ve actually heard them use.  Include their history and then switch the numbers and names so that no one can tell where you got all of it.

 

People will start asking you how you came up with something so vivid and true to life.  Just smile and tell them that it popped into your head one day.  And then go back to the reading, the exploration and the hard work that have piled up a mountain of juicy details for your imagination to access whenever it wants.

 

PS: Below is a video of the exact thing I’m talking about and my feedback in a workshop I taught with Roy H. Williams for a business recently in Austin.  If you want to spend two days making your writing soar while living in a mansion and eating some amazing food, check out the two workshops I’m teaching for adults and kids this year at Wizard Academy.

 

No One Told Me How to Write Workshop – 2 day workshop for adults, Jan. 14/15

Young Writer’s Workshop – 2 day workshop for kids (ages 12-16) plus one parent, July 17/18

 

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