Tag Archives: Novel

Writers: Finally a good use for Pinterest!

I know plenty of women who are obsessed with Pinterest. From teachers to moms to fashionistas, Pinterest appeals to pretty much every woman I know, (as well as some of the men, too, I’m sure). Until today, this excluded me. I signed up because I use it from time to time for visual inspiration or to find a picture for my blog, but I have never got into pinning things, (I already waste my valuable writing time in too many ways).

However, one of my big goals in revisiting my book is to anchor it with more specific visual cues. I don’t want to turn into Steinbeck with full page descriptions of meadows, but three words here, five words there can really shape what readers see. I want my book to feel more textured, more quirky, more unique. This comes from no one other than myself. I feel like many of my visual descriptions are too generic, even if my goal is to keep much of my description minimalistic.

So– I’ve decided to create a board on Pinterest for images that fit with my vision of the book. Before I revisit each chapter, I’m spending a maximum of five minutes pinning images that mesh with what comes next. I tried it with my prologue this morning and the story felt much more alive. I could see Kristen’s outfit more clearly, I could see Jake’s gift sitting on the kitchen table. Best of all, by the end of the book, I will have a board full of images from their travels, their choices, their lives. I love it.

Feel free to stop by and watch my story grow. And, if you create a similar writing board for your work, I would love to check it out.

Any other good writing uses for Pinterest?

Pinterest is full of so many images

I have always googled images while I write, but Pinterest gives me a way to keep all of the images together, creating a visual storyboard of my novel.

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My Triumphant(ish) Return to Writing

The last couple months I hid from writing. Sure, I blogged and wrote a few paragraphs here and there for various projects. I even wrote an outline for a new book and submitted some articles to blogs and online newspapers. I read about the craft. In short, I did enough to feel like I was still a writer even if I was not making much progress.

In reality, indecision and self-doubt paralyzed me. I could not decide where to focus my attention, on something new or old or in between. Forty-three queries left me uncertain of Expecting Happiness, the occasional agent nibble more confusing than inspiring. I considered shelving it and starting something new, but nothing flowed.

I felt stuck. Family members encouraged me not to leave Expecting Happiness behind, a fellow blogger did the same. So, this week, I opened up the document and did what I should have done before. I am polishing and reshaping again for the good of the book. People always warn me I could write the same book forever, but these changes need to happen. We know deep down where we’re cutting corners.

I will finish Expecting Happiness and be proud of it, even if the idea of being proud is counterintuitive to my intrinsic humility. I want to be confident in my writing. There is a lot more buried in these last couple sentences, but I’ll save it for another post. I just know it is time to stop hiding.

I blogged before about how I find myself wanting children but fear having children will keep me from writingAs I revisit the beginning of Expecting Happiness, I see so many opportunities to explore these feelings more deeply, even if they are distorted into fictional characters who do not write but still have other passions lurking beneath the surface. I know starting a family is such an incredible gift, but for me it also seems like a space to hide when I lose faith in my writing. A child would give me the perfect excuse to stop pushing myself.

This morning I woke up and read a post on Offbeat Families by a writer who has decided to have one child. I applaud her for her honesty about what is important in her life. While I will make no similar decrees, I appreciate her reminder of how crucial it is to stay true to ourselves. I see many women wear motherhood as their identities. I understand this biologically-driven desire but I also see that it would be hiding to use motherhood as a reason not to pursue my other dreams as well.

The past few months have felt frustratingly stagnant in various ways, but I am beginning to see there is a reason behind it all. Now is my time to write, untethered, to carve out the space I will someday covet as time stolen from other parts of my life. I’m laying the groundwork for a life spent writing, regardless of the outcome. I write because it helps me make sense of life. When I distance myself, I feel lost. I must keep going and Expecting Happiness must be finished.

My new goal: Try even if I might fail.

Yes, this probably means self-publishing.

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Help me write a better pitch (Please and thank you)

Here is my revised pitch as it currently stands, (the old one can be viewed under the Expecting Happiness tab):

As Jake sits on the bathroom floor and holds his crying wife, he knows something needs to change. Stable jobs and a house are not enough. A child seemed like the answer, but Kristen lost the baby and now she locks herself in the bathroom to be alone.

Emboldened by their loss, they say, “Fuck it all.” They quit their jobs, sell their house, and embark on separate journeys. Separate because they want different things–

Kristen wants to face the world without Jake around to hold her up. She departs for Europe looking for independence but inches her way closer to an old friend living in Paris. His name is Gustavo and he makes her blush.

Jake, on the other hand, wants to find a place to start over, somewhere he can convince Kristen to begin a family. Of course, he also craves a little adventure. He sets off on a cross-country road trip but instead finds himself on another continent, a part of someone else’s family.

Even with new faces and changing scenery, life is not complete. Torn between the allure of the unknown and their unrelenting longing for one another, Kristen and Jake must ultimately choose which life holds the secret to greater happiness.


So, there you have it, months and months of painstaking tweaks… And still not quite right!

Here are a few questions I have grappled with:

Do I need to include physical descriptions of the characters and/or their ages? (Leaning toward no after my last post…)

Does my ending work?

How can I make this stronger?

If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them. As long as feedback is offered constructively, I am very open. My goal, after all, is to make my pitch better and I know it’s not quite there yet. If you feel more comfortable offering input privately, feel free to email me at olivia@oliviaobryon.com. And, if you write, post your pitch and I’ll be happy to return the favor! (Cough, cough:: Kozo it’s your turn!)

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Who would you cast in the movie of your novel?

Okay, so I got a bit distracted this morning as I rewrote my pitch. See, I could not decide whether or not to leave in my physical descriptions of my characters. The Book Doctors suggest brief physical descriptions, but for some reason it still feels a little clumsy to me, (new pitch to follow soon).

This got me thinking about what my characters actually look like to me in my mind’s eye. Visualization is not my strength. I see fuzzy versions of my characters, not concrete people, which is not to say I don’t know my characters, but rather nailing down an exact picture in my mind is just not the way I think. I need to see the faces of real people.

So, I decided I need to cast my characters– a useful exercise that happens to also be fun:

Kristen: I imagined her with dark hair, blue eyes, someone who would fit the inspiration of the song “Galway Girl.”

Today I realized she would probably look like Olivia Wilde, which I assure you has nothing to do with her great first name. She’s classically beautiful but can also pull off a punk rock, peace activist college kid, which is important to Kristen.


Kristen. Photo credit: Pinterest.

Jake: He was a bit harder for me to cast. Does Paul Rudd have a younger brother with brown eyes? I imagined a guy that is attractive in a charming smile kind of way, maybe a bit goofy. In my book I describe him as lanky because I see him as athletic and charismatic, but in a real way. Today’s winner: Okay, Paul Rudd wins even if he might be a little older than Jake and maybe not into playing a role that is not purely comical… Guess I’m on the look-out for a younger Paul Rudd willing to mix drama with humor.


Jake. Photo credit: Pinterest.

Or, on second thought, maybe Josh Radnor… He did a good job writing/directing/acting in HappyThankYouMorePleaseso he might also be a good Jake.

Other Jake?

Alternate Jake? Photo Credit: Pinterest.

Decisions, decisions… Of course there are half a dozen other characters to be cast, but I’m pretty sure it would take me two hours to pick them all, which seems like a case of diminishing returns. Focusing on my two main characters, however, worthwhile.

Have you cast your protagonists?

And, on a side note, do you provide physical descriptions of your main characters in your pitch? I’m conflicted, as usual.

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Moving On…

Here’s something I didn’t anticipate.

I thought writing something new would be fun. It has been, sometimes. But I can’t stop thinking about my first story. I want to go back to it, to rescue it from the space of forgotten books, to bring it back to life and make someone else love it too. I almost feel like I’m cheating on our year-long relationship by dipping my pen somewhere else. There’s still work to be done. I miss my characters. These new ones are alright, but they’re not the same. It will take time to know them, to love them the same way.

I’m tempted to throw NaNoWriMo down the drain and go back to save my old book. I’m ready to mean business this time, really. I know what needs to be done. Still, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder? Maybe starting something new always feels this way? Maybe two more weeks will do me good? I’m just having a hard time putting my heart into it. Last year felt so different.

For those of you who have written more than one book, was it easy to move on?

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1,500 words in my extra hour…

I’m back.

That’s not bragging, that’s celebrating. The first few days of NaNoWriMo were off to a slow start. Now I’m excited. Finally get to use those vagabond youth I’ve been stalking since summer. Not to mention my obsession with the ocean and the Oregon Coast. I’m liking this book. It’s fun to spend time camping on the beach with a bunch of young hippies.

Now time for everything else in life– San Francisco friends here we come!

Thank goodness for the end of daylight savings time. That extra hour was always magical to me as a kid. My favorite non-holiday weekend of the entire year. I remember believing you had to find something incredible to do with your extra hour, (thanks to a special episode of Pete & Pete…). I guess I still hold that belief. This year I wrote with mine. What did you do with yours? Hopefully something good!

Happy Sunday.

Slimy inspiration.

This piece of driftwood was easily fifteen feet tall. The power of the ocean is incredible… More inspiration from the sea.


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NaNoWriMo Day Two: Gray Whales, Sea Kayaking, and Mermaids

I’m a day behind in NaNoWriMo world. Yesterday yielded zero words. I left home before 7AM for work and returned from a long day of teaching, fall festivaling, and celebrating a family birthday happy but exhausted. This is exactly why I chose to set my goal at half. 25,000 words in a month is more realistic than 50,000. Today I brought my total to 2,265.

In the process, I was reminded of a few lessons I learned last time, lessons I have not needed for awhile:

1. Just let the damn words flow. This morning I read and reread and reread again. I was writing in perfectionist mode, the exact mode I taught my students to avoid by locking up their inner editors. It’s easy to never write anything when you write this way. Finally I remembered the beauty of NaNoWriMo– just write without looking back. Sure enough, the last six hundred words I spit out came much more easily. In the past, I’ve criticized the NaNoWriMo method for producing work that needs to be heavily edited, but I overlooked something important in this criticism– better to have written something to edit than nothing at all.

2. The internet is my friend. I’ve finally reached a good spot of being able to ignore all other Internet impulses while writing. This is the polar opposite from me over the summer. Maybe it’s because I know my time is limited. Instead of using the Internet to waste time, I’ve been putting it to work for this new book. Needed to learn about gray whales, Naga (a mythical, serpentine mermaid), and sea kayaking today. I feel so spoiled to have so much information at my fingertips– I can’t imagine what it was like for writers before the Internet.

3. Music. I started my day in silence, but this afternoon I turned on Pandora to Iron & Wine, my favorite writing station. I always forget my words flow more easily with some background music. I also sometimes get this creepy feeling Pandora is reading my mind. The song below came on as I was thinking about nicknaming my protagonist’s old truck Jesus. Not sure if that’s me being inspired by Pandora or Pandora being inspired by me…

4. Connections matter. Knowing that many of my blog friends out there are also writing this month is already helping to keep me motivated. It’s kind of like having a friend willing to go to the gym with you… And, it’s exciting to read other people’s NaNoWriMo posts and see those word counts climbing! Hurray for collective brain power. If you include your NaNoWriMo name in a comment below, I’ll be sure to add you as a writing buddy. I’m TodayBestLife if you want to find me, (old blog identity).

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Writing Crossroads


I’m standing at a writing crossroads and having a very hard time deciding which path to take. I don’t want to get stuck in one project, but I also don’t want to start more than I can feasibly finish:

Option 1: Put everything Expecting Happiness related on hold for the month of November, (unless of course some very enthusiastic agent wants to snatch me up…), and have fun letting the words flow for NaNoWriMo. This was my original plan. I figured I’d come back to Expecting Happiness either because of outside interest or after I played around with something new, learned some more tricks in the process, and was ready to revisit.

Option 2: Here is what I was not expecting. Reading up on the writing craft this month has left me more aware of the places I could strengthen Expecting Happiness. Likewise, I have received input/interest from two of the people I reached out to in my querying process and see that with a little guidance I might be on an even better track toward getting this thing traditionally published. So, my other thought is that I get this book truly done for good before allowing myself to explore something new.

I feel very torn between both options. I am so excited to be back in that first writing stage again where everything is fresh and you’re living inside the story. However, I also feel like I’m beginning to make some breakthroughs in how I understand my own writing, some breakthroughs that might make the difference…

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Teachers, Get your NaNoWriMo on!

Okay, I’m now excited for November for two reasons: Time to write something new AND time to walk my students through their first novels… That’s right, I’m doing it, diving in head first and teaching the NaNoWriMo Youth Writing Program. Fortunately, it fits right in with what we’re already teaching this time of year– narrative writing.

Part of why I am so excited is because my students cheered me on last year as I attempted to write a novel in one month. This year, those same kids will get to try it themselves. When I unveiled my master plan to my students this afternoon, they were giddy. The kind folks over at NaNoWriMo will even be sending them a free box of goodies to keep them motivated.

Today we locked up our inner editors. I almost passed on this, thinking it might not be the best use of instructional time, but they had a blast drawing the mean voices inside their heads that keep them from writing. It turns out that even ten year olds have fears of not being great. We’ll need our editors again in December when it is time to revise, but until then, we’re locking them up so we can just get the words out, (good advice for us grown-up writers too!):

Good-bye for awhile evil inner-voice editors!

It’s funny, I was a little hesitant to teach narrative with NaNoWriMo because it feels like such an epic endeavor to convince fifth graders to pour their attention into novel writing for an entire month. However, day 1 down of preparing their thoughts and I feel like it might be an awesomely memorable part of their year. They’re excited, I’m excited… Wish us luck!


PS. I’m now contemplating making my NaNoWriMo novel targeted at a middle grades/young adult audience. This is completely off-course from my previous plans, but it sounds like fun to write something I can actually share with them while they’re writing…

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That’s what she said…

Writer friends, let’s talk dialogue, shall we. This week, I am meandering my way through Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and the section on writing dialogue has my attention. According to the book, “Your best bet is to use the verb said almost without exception… To use verbs like the last three [grimaced, smiled, chuckled] is to brand yourself as an amateur– and stick your character with an action that is physically impossible.”

Now, I have to say, even though dialogue writing is tricky and I am still learning, I am not entirely sure I agree. Overall, I try to stick to said or use beats that describe the character’s actions to show who is talking:

“I’m just afraid I’ll let you down,” Kristen leaned over and put her head on his lap, letting her tears spill onto his favorite pair of old Adidas running shorts.

The description of what Kristen does tells us she is the one speaking with a beat according to the authors. They would theoretically agree with this speaker attribution. However, there are times that speaker tags like smiled or laughed add something to the text. To me, they don’t mean the speaker held these expressions the entire time they were speaking, like the book claims to be physically impossible, but instead that these actions followed the dialogue:

“Me?” Kristen laughed softly, “You’re the unhappy one!”

As a reader, can’t we infer that she was not laughing the entire time the words were spoken, but instead at the point in between? I feel like maybe I am missing something about dialogue here that the authors of this book see and I don’t. I get what they’re saying about not overdoing it with unnecessary verbs/adjectives/adverbs, but variety does not seem like such a bad thing, especially when it gives information to the reader.

Ironically, I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would agree with me. The Great Gatsby, which this book holds in high esteem for its character development and scene creation, uses tags like told, laughed, cried, remarked all within the first few pages. So, now I’m curious of your thoughts– how do you most often distinguish who is talking in your dialogue? Do you frequently use verbs other than said? Do you feel they serve a purpose or that said is the better choice?

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It’s Almost November… Which Means Nanowrimo!

The fall quilt is out, the leaves are… okay, still green. It’s 90 degrees here in Sacramento, but at least I have the autumn spirit. Something about the shrinking amount of daylight makes me increasingly focused on finishing old projects. I am seriously ready for something new. In fact, I’m darn-near ecstatic for something new to write. So. Close.

My first queries go out this Thursday. Just wrote a bunch of personalized letters and tightened up my synopsis to one page, (Hallelujah!). As much as I really hope something comes of this effort, I am even more excited for what’s next. I just ordered Self-Editing for Fiction Writerswhich I admittedly should have read earlier, but at least it will be a good, nerdy read before beginning my next novel.

Speaking of which– November 1, 2012, mark you calendars. Okay, really, only mark them if you’re also planning to participate in Nanowrimo, (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). As much as I dislike some of the rubbish I had to wade through last time I spit out thousands of exhausted words after bossing around children all day, I still feel like this is the perfect place to get motivated and give yourself something warm and cozy to do through the cold winter months. So, seasoned writer or not, I invite you to join me as we cheer each other on with the hefty goal of writing a novel, (or the beginning of a novel), in one month.

Last year I only did 22,222 words… Which is nearly 30,000 shy of the goal, but it still encouraged me enough to feel like I could write an entire book, which shortly thereafter, I actually did. This year my goal is just to write well, in quantity, for the entire month, using November 1 as the launch for my new idea. We’ll see where I end up. I’m excited. Nanowrimo is like Burning Man to me, an annual celebration of intense artistic expression.

Will you join me?

Looks like I already have one writing buddy in my mess of papers today– could use some human ones as well… Add me as a writing buddy on the nanowrimo site!

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Dream Big or Go Home

Every fall, the organization I work for holds a region-wide professional development day. With roots in Silicon Valley and tech start-ups, my charter school group is forward thinking, technology-driven, and business minded. Last year’s theme was the importance of reframing failure as a welcomed opportunity for improvement.

This year, the theme was BHAGs, Big Hairy Audacious Goals. The idea, you have to dream bigger than you can imagine in order to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. You have to think decades, not just years. Then, you have to create an actionable plan to bring these goals to fruition. The more seemingly outlandish, the better.

While I applaud my charter organization for having BHAGs, I decided I needed to also have my own big hairy audacious goals. Usually, I think just one year at a time, maybe five at the most, stretching for what is within reach. Instead, this evening, I pushed myself to imagine the kind of over-the-top success I usually only let linger in my brain for a few minutes before settling on smaller, more seemingly attainable goals.

So, here you go. My BHAGs.

1. Be an internationally published author with readers around the world. I am currently living vicariously through Eowyn Ivey, author of the Snow Child, on her trip around the world to market her book and visit her foreign publishers. To achieve this BHAG, I need to write, write, write, and write some more.

2. At first I wanted to have a blog following of 1,000, but that seemed minuscule in the shadow of a big hairy audacious goal. Instead, I want to establish a following of 10,000. Why not? The more readers of my blog, the more potential readers of my books, and the more likely I can sustain myself as a writer. 10,000 definitely feels big and hairy. Again, I need to write, write, write, and put myself out there.

3. Live or have a vacation property overlooking the ocean. It’s easy to say you want wealth or any number of things that come with it, but I think specificity is important to achieving goals. I want to wake up to the ocean, write with the sound of the waves, do yoga on the beach until I’m a little old lady who can’t do yoga anymore, (aka dead). Again, sounds like I need to write, write, write, because teaching certainly isn’t going to buy that dream.

To write by the sea is the life for me.

My dream.

As writers, I think we’re often discouraged from dreaming big because most of us will never get there. However, as long as your happiness doesn’t depend solely on whether or not you achieve your goals, I disagree with all the disillusioned souls who say it’s too hard, too unlikely. As long as someone out there is doing it, it’s possible. Might as well be me, or you, or better yet, both of us.

Reminds me of my beloved Marianne Williamson quote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

So shine on and be free with me.

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