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If you’re stuck

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Help is here.

It happens to everyone. Sometimes we just get stuck when we’re writing. Here are the episodes that I use as a safety net with things get tough:

Listen to these episodes of the Secret Library if you’re stuck:

  • If you have writer’s block, Jasper Fforde will help.
  • If you don’t have enough time, Natashia Deon understands.
  • If you’re worried that none of this matters, Alexandra Franzen will convince you otherwise.
  • If your critic is killing you and you’re in the trench of despair, here are Amber Rae and Madeline Miller back to back in one episode to solve that.
  • If you need help getting organized, Ryder Carroll has the system for you.
  • If you have trouble getting started in the morning, Amy Alkon has that sorted.
  • If nothing else helps, this one will.

You’ve got this. You are stronger than the forces holding you back.

Take tiny baby steps forward and you’ll make it to the other side.

I’m rooting for you.

 

Memoir

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Greetings, Memoirists!

While there’s a lot that you can take from resources on both fiction and nonfiction, memoir is its own art form.

Here is a roundup of inspiring memoir listening as well as some excellent books to get you started.

Recommended episodes of The Secret Library Podcast about Memoir:

  • Ruth Reichl was brilliant speaking about her most recent book, Save Me the Plums
  • Raynor Winn on living and writing The Salt Path, the runaway bestseller
  • Susannah Conway on the process of writing several books including This I Know, her memoir about the sudden death of her partner
  • Michelle Kuo on writing about her experiences with Teach for America in the deep south in her memoir Reading with Patrick
  • Scott Stabile on Big Love, his memoir on the murder of his parents, and the impact of writing it on his family.
  • Alison Pataki, a successful historical fiction writer on being driven to write her memoir, Beauty in the Broken Places

Essential Reading for Memoirists:

This should get you started, but if you’re still stuck these will help.

Nonfiction

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Welcome, nonfiction writers!

I’ve got a ton of resources gathered for you, as I’ve published both a non-fiction book and co-edited and anthology and know what it takes to complete each of those projects.

We’ve been fortunate to have quote a few amazing guests who are nonfiction authors on the show, so I have plenty of inspiring listening just for you:

Recommended episodes of The Secret Library Podcast about Nonfiction:

  • Susan Orlean is one of my favorite people to speak to on this topic (or in general) so here she is on Making Writing Your Career  and on writing The Library Book
  • A.J. Jacobs is the master of nonfiction projects where he explores topics through his own direct experience.
  • Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn podcast has written numerous nonfiction books for writers, including the wonderful How to Write Nonfiction, which we discuss here.
  • Anne Choma, historian, is the author behind the companion volume to the HBO/BBC program Gentleman Jack. We tackle research and encoded diaries in this one.
  • Elaine Weiss is the author of The Women’s Hour, a riveting book about the race to pass the 19th amendment.
  • Cara Robertson had a winding road to publishing her book on the trial of Lizzie Borden, but she persevered and ended up with a hit.

Essential Reading for Nonfiction Writers:

This should have you up and running nicely with fiction, but try these if you still feel stuck.

Fiction

 

Welcome!

I’m so glad to learn that you’re writing fiction at the moment. Fiction is close to my heart, as I’ve drafted five novels and am currently revising one to submit for publication.

I’ve gathered these resources to support you in writing fiction:

Recommended episodes of The Secret Library Podcast about Fiction:

  • Let’s start with the magical Sarah Selecky, our most frequent guest, who is always able to conjure possibilities when she talks about writing
  • If you’re worried that your first draft is a mess, let Chip Cheek assuage your fears with his gloriously wild rough draft experience
  • You don’t need to write the way anyone else does. Don’t believe me? Diana Gabaldon has the most unusual writing process I’ve ever heard of, and it hasn’t slowed her down a bit.
  • Worried you’re starting to write fiction too late in life? Kit De Waal didn’t start until her 40s, publishing in her 50s and is a bestseller and a brilliant writer now.
  • Looking for that perfect balance of character development and plot? Ben Percy has the best voice ever heard on this show and the solution to this issue.
  • Writing a topic that feels intimidating? Let Rebecca Makkai share how she tackled the AIDS epidemic in The Great Believers.
  • If you need help working on dialogue, this conversation with Wesley Brown is excellent.
  • Get inspired to write about the less heard stories from Philippa Gregory, who writes about unseen women in history.
  • If you’re writing short fiction, Danielle Lazarin and Paul McVeigh are here for you.

Essential Reading for Fiction Writers:

  • You probably know Natalie Goldberg’s classic, Writing Down the Bones. It’s beautiful, but you may not know about Thunder and Lightning, which takes the process one step further. Just gorgeous.
  • If you haven’t yet read it, I can’t recommend On Writing by Stephen King enough. If you like audiobooks, he reads the audio version and it adds a whole new depth to the story to listen.
  • Sandra Scofield’s The Scene Book is full of prompts and wonderful inspiration. Her book The Last Draft is also brilliant if you’re revising your novel.
  • One of my favorite books about being a writer ever is Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See. I fist read it over 15 years ago and it still feels every bit as relevant today.

This should have you up and running nicely with fiction, but try these if you still feel stuck.

The Perfect Writing Playlist

“The shadow to creativity is as elusive as the creativity itself.”
– Kim Krans

The creative self is a tricky minx, isn’t it?

One day, everything clicks and you can churn out page after page. Another day, it feels like squeezing words out of a stone, or your writing self sounds like an echo on a bad phone connection- tinny and strange and not sounding like you at all.

We all have bad days when writing- when creating anything, in fact.

So… how to set the scene in the best possible way? I am a huge proponent of music while writing.

Not music with words – I can’t handle the distraction there. But instrumental music, yes please.

I learned this trick from a fellow writer, and I have loved it ever since.

I write to soundtracks that have the same emotional tone as the story I’m working on. I even change based on the emotional tone of a scene.

Here’s some for you to try:

  • Writing a sad scene? Try the soundtrack to Jane Eyre.
  • Trying to build suspense? I love the score from the Matrix.
  • Got an action sequence that needs some oomph? Escape 700 from Hanna is pure gold.
  • Transporting into another world or another time? Inception is totally transporting.
  • Writing heady sci-fi? Try The Fountain
  • Getting romantic? Pride and Prejudice is lovely and sweet, and the Piano is for the more intense story.
  • Social commentary? Try Anna Karenina
  • To perk up a sluggish moment, many of the numbers in La La Land are so danceable. Many of these do have words, though…
  • And for a scary story, I can’t think of anything creepier and more haunting than theTwin Peaks soundtrack.

This is by no means a complete list, just some of my personal discoveries. All of these links lead to Spotify, and you can listen there for free with ads. If you have an account and think of an album you like to write to, it’s also fun to create a radio station- I’ve found loads of music I never thought of that is great to write to. (Who knew the Transformers score was so transporting?)

If you aren’t one to write with music, I hope this opens you up to what can often power me through some incredibly productive writing sessions. If you do write with music, this might help you choose what you listen to strategically to get you in the best mindset to channel the feelings you need to get through your next scene.

I hope this is helpful- I know putting this list together has me very eager to dive into my own writing…

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