Presented by: Marianne Donley & Carol L. Wright
Date: November 6 – 17, 2023 (two weeks)
Pricing: A2P Member fee: $15 Non-A2P Member fee: $25
From Hanukkah Goblins to Ebeneezer Scrooge to Bad Santa, holiday stories run the gamut from heartwarming tales that enhance the celebration, warm the heart, and knit generations together, to those that highlight the frazzled nerves, generational conflicts, and dark humor that holidays sometimes bring to the fore.
With such a broad canvas, holidays give authors enormous range for storytelling, but there are still some elements that holiday stories nearly always share. This class will help you sort through the holiday frenzy to tell your story in a way that will leave your readers wanting more.
Marianne H. Donley, a retired teacher, now writes short stories, funny romances, and quirky murder mysteries. Her stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies, journals, and magazines. She also owns and manages the multi-author blog, A Slice of Orange. Marianne is a member of Bethlehem Writers Group, Music City Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Charmed Writers. You can follow Marianne’s various social media at: https://linktr.ee/mariannehdonley
Carol L. Wright writes mysteries and more. Her debut traditional mystery, Death in Glenville Falls: A Gracie McIntyre Mystery, was a finalist for two international book awards. Her short stories have appeared in award-winning anthologies and literary journals, and some of her favorites are collected in her book A Christmas on Nantucket and other stories. You can learn more at her website: https://CarolLWright.com
Together, Marianne and Carol teach both in person and online classes. They organize and judge a yearly short story contest. And just to keep busy, they have also edited six anthologies and are working on the seventh.
All the members of Bethlehem Writers Group are fast at work on the 2023 Bethlehem Writer Roundtable Short Story Award. (Winners will be announced soon.) So we’re rerunning a column from 2017 on How Not to Write in Twelve Hard Steps. We hope you enjoy it.
Unfortunately, writing with a day job is incredibly easy. You simply keep writing material with you at all time. Paper and pencil work as well as an iPad. Then when you find a block of time (like I usually have to wait for that student who never shows up for a scheduled appointment or arriving hours early for my appointment because the 60 freeway is completely and inexplicably free from traffic) you write. After dishes are done and the family is watching reruns on TV, you write. When you awaken hours before the rest of the world, you write. I imagined my whole blog would be one word long:
That would be the world’s shortest blog. In addition, I suspected I would be preaching to the choir. People who write and have day jobs know this. Who else would care? Maybe, I should blog about something else. But what?
Inspiration struck while I wandered the local bookstore and sipping my venti café mocha I noticed a whole wall of thick serious books on how to write everything from baby picture books to novels to true-crime police procedurals. Stuck in the middle of all this writing information were two thin books on How NOT to Write.
Heck, not even Nora can want to write all day every day. I would have thought there would be a bit more information on how not to write. Constant writing must be some type of mental illness or at the very least a nasty bad habit. Surely, there must be tons of books on breaking such a habit. I looked. There wasn’t. Just two tiny little books all alone in the vast sea of heavy writing advice.
Clearly, not writing was a topic few writers were comfortable discussing. I’m pretty brave. I can handle controversy. I’ll write a blog on how not to write. I could come up with a set of rules. Break new ground. Give out sage advice.
So here it is:
1. Pay attention, this is important. Not writing is the hardest work you will ever do. It is not for the faint of heart. Not writing takes planning, dedication, and a tenacity that many writers lack. Don’t try it unless you have the necessary backbone.
2. To not write you must get up early in the morning. The perfect time is 4:30 A.M. but for you sleepy heads 5:00 A.M. will work as well. If you sleep until 8, half the day is gone and you may as well just waste the rest by writing.
3. To not write you must have a full pot of coffee. Dedicated non-writers program their coffee pots so they can start their day with a fresh cup as soon as they leap out of bed. I suspect that tea drinkers can’t help themselves and start writing as soon as the tea bag hits the trash can, so if you really want to not write break your tea drinking habit immediately.
4. To not write you must have an outfit. You can write in your PJs and no one will care. Not writing takes more style, especially if you want to avoid pointed questions about your mental health. Your outfit can’t just be jeans and a tee-shirt unless of course, you’re male. Females must have a complete, color-coordinated outfit with jewelry, makeup, and styled hair. For women, I strongly advise pantyhose and two-inch heels as well. For men, not shaving is NOT an option.
5. To not write you must have a clean office or not-writing space. If your space is messy and cluttered, then you must take the time to make it tidy. Organizing it would be even better. I recommend categorizing all the bookshelves in your house by subject and author. Should you use the kitchen as your office, alphabetizing your spice rack while you’re at it is always an excellent idea. It wouldn’t hurt to get some of those cute little bins for all your rubber bands and paper clips. You should also consider sharpening all your pencils and testing all your pens to see if they still work. However, cleaning the bathroom or doing laundry is a bit excessive. Should you find yourself contemplating such work, just give up and write. Let’s face it if you’re going to work that hard you may as well get some recognition for it. Completing your manuscript and sending it out will, at the very least, get you an RWA Pro pin and a round of applause at the next chapter meeting. Only your mother will notice whether or not you clean the bathroom.
6. To not write you must play computer solitaire until you win. None of that two-game only nonsense; this takes a real commitment. You must win. Four Suit Spider Solitaire is an excellent choice for those truly dedicated to not writing. Less adventuresome types can try the Two Suit version or Free Cell. However, should you select One Suit Spider and not win in 30 seconds or less, well, just don’t tell me. I firmly believe everyone I know is smart enough to get an advanced degree in rocket science if only they had the time. Shattering my world view like that is just plain cruel.
7. To not write you must build into your schedule time for physical exercise. As I mentioned above, not writing is hard work. Drinking coffee, while playing Free Cell, in your spanking clean office, and keeping your outfit stylish is quite emotionally draining. If you are not careful you could actually get bored and open up your WIP. Your whole day of not writing will be shot to heck. Walking around the block, especially if you live on a steep hill should help.
8. To not write, I must caution you, taking two dogs for a walk as your scheduled physical activity will invariably set you right back on the writing path. How you may ask? Two dogs are not going to agree on speed, direction, or when to leave odorous land mines for you to pick up. This lack of coordination on their part will provide comic relief at your expense for your neighbors. If one of them says something like, “Martha, ya got to come see this” while you, of course, are in the middle of the street, tangled up in dog leashes attached to a white dog going North and a black dog going South, juggling three baggies of land mines, a pouch of special doggie treats, the training clicker that supposed to help train the dogs, but actually makes the black dog cry and the white dog sit until he gets to eat all the treats. Well, can plotting this neighbor’s death be far behind? If he’s going to die, you’re going to have to think of a better reason then laughing at you to kill him. Then you’re going to need several characters who also want him dead for equally good reasons, and finally, the proper sleuth and her love interest will just pop right into your head. The next thing you know a whole series will be in the planning stages and you won’t be able to not write for months.
9. To not write you must have a not writing buddy or sponsor. This buddy is someone you can call any time of the day or night whenever that uncontrollable urge to break out Chapter Four and fix it threatens. Your mother or sisters cannot be your not writing buddy. This is considered cheating as it is much too easy to get them chatting and waste valuable not writing time. No, your buddy must be trustworthy and kind and also dedicated to not writing. She must intuitively know when not to ask how you worked out that problem you accidentally but cleverly wrote into Chapter Eight. She should NEVER tell you she’s finished her WIP. She should always know when to invite you to Starbucks for venti mochas or to Nordstrom’s for a good day of shoe shopping. Shoe shopping is, by the way, the only shopping for which you can indulge without guilt.
10. All not writing writers should know that guilt free shoe shopping is a rule. I think it was left over from the Regan administration. Subversive media types, probably male, tried to kill this rule with cruel stories featuring Imelda Marcos and her shoe closet. (Can you imagine the press if she has attended a public event wearing pre-worn shoes? The press coverage would have rivaled the media frenzy surrounding a certain female prosecutor and her new hair cut.) More sensible wisdom prevailed and shoes are officially guilt free. I must point out that as a corollary to this rule, any other type of shopping is not only riddled with real stomach turning guilt, and it requires an actual paycheck. This will naturally require you finish that book, not a good situation for your not writing goals.
11. To not write you should avoid the Internet like the plague, especially emails. Some people think the Internet is the perfect not writing tool. They are sadly mistaken. Consider, if you will, the simple task of checking your emails. You are going to get them from your weak-willed friends who are writing. Those people are unfortunately smart. Good writing ideas follow them around like ants at a picnic and they SHARE. Read one email and you’re going to get enough ideas to keep you writing for the rest of your natural life and that of your youngest child’s. You’ll have to make a pack with the devil just to finish. Really, do you want to risk your immortal soul just for email? And if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ll answer your emails by says, “Gee that idea would make a great (pick one) book, novel, short story, article, online class, workshop.”
12. To not write you should also drop out of all your critiques groups. (See above for the primary reason.) Secondary reason: Every conversation will start with, “So how’s the writing?” You’ll feel guilty. You’ll write. That clever accident in Chapter Eight, they’ll not only fix it, they’ll give you enough material for three sequels, two novellas, and cookbook. You’ll feel guilty. You’ll write.
*This was originally titled Twelve Easy Steps, but someone recently complained that I say everything is easy. She pointed out that if I would just say things were hard she would feel heaps better when she figured out how the heck to do it. When I tell her it’s easy, she gets no sense of accomplishment. Heaven knows I want people to have a real sense of accomplishment when not writing.
Marianne H. Donley makes her home in Pennyslvania with her husband and son. She is a member of Bethlehem Writers Group and Sisters in Crime. When Marianne is NOT not writing, she might be writing short stories, funny romances or quirky murder mysteries, but this could be a rumor.
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